Look for Rest Somewhere Else, Working Man.

Who knew yesterday's piece, "Do What You Love, And You'll Work Every Day Of Your Life," would resonate with so many of you? I certainly didn't. I'm thankful for the number of messages and emails I've received, and if there's one common theme to those messages, it's this: I once thought another job would give me the joy and validation I needed; I thought it wouldn't feel like work. Guess what? I was wrong.

Thanks for you honesty, all.

Today, allow me to restate yesterday's working premise another way: There isn't a single vocation that can give the human soul what it needs--equilibrium, peace, and rest. 

Sure, there are vocational choices that might make it easier to find soul-rest. (For instance, I'd argue [tweetherder]soul-rest is difficult to find in the vocation of cocaine trafficking.[/tweetherder] Cocaine traffickers, feel free to email your disagreement.) But if vocation or occupation was meant to provide perfect rest and utter joy for the soul, soul-satisfaction would be in short supply. Could the roughneck, the coal miner, the migrant worker find rest and soul-satisfaction in their vocation alone? What about the lawyer grinding out the hours, the police officer under fire, the middle manager at Super-Mega-Mall-Mart? Could any of them find peace and rest solely in their respective careers? Could you.

Modern men have perpetuated a dangerous myth, the myth that the perfect, soul-fulfilling, non-work work is just around the corner. It's a myth that tips too many of us off center, keeps us striving, striving, striving for the next shiny position. Believing the myth, how many of us have hummed our working-man-blues tunes?Here's what the myth peddlers have failed to take into account: work is just that--work. It will never completely satisfy the soul.

Are you looking for that perfect job, that vocational track that feels less like work and more like rest, like soul-satisfaction? Good luck. Maybe you'll be the vocational unicorn frolicking in a field of cotton candy under May showers of Skittles. I doubt it. More likely, you'll be like the rest of us; you'll do the next thing you know, the best way you can. Sometimes you'll love it. Sometimes you'll hate it. Most of the time, though, you'll struggle under the stress of your chosen occupation.

That's what it means to be a working man.

It's okay to be a working man.

[tweetherder]Look for your soul rest somewhere else, working man.[/tweetherder]

 

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THE GIFT OF FRINGE HOURS (OR WHY MEN'S RETREATS ARE SEXIST)

[tweetherder]Men’s retreats—whether church getaways or hunting trips—have always baffled me.[/tweetherder] This, I think, is one of the most honest statements I have ever written in this online space. Allow me to explain.

We live in a world that keeps a frenetic pace, one in which children are expected to be exceptional and excel at everything. From basketball practice, to running club, to piano, to Little Theater, to yada-yada-yada, our children are inundated with cultural notions of American exceptionalism from the cradle. “You can do anything you put your mind to,” we say, and so, they are forced to do everything we put their minds to.

Our family is no exception. Our children are in karate, extracurricular clubs, school productions, and para-church ministries. Isaac wants to join the basketball team and take piano. Jude wants to take art and guitar lessons. Add to this the growing interests of Ian and Titus, and my family’s schedule is growing very full. (And this is without mentioning doctor’s appointments, church functions, and community involvement.)

By society’s standards, my children have a relatively relaxed schedule, but still, we find it difficult to keep the pace without becoming frazzled.

Move to strike.

Amber finds it difficult to keep the pace.

If I’m honest, I’m not quite sure how she does it. She wakes early to spend her time in scripture and prayer, and before she can whisper her last Amen, Titus is begging for a new sippy cup and Jude needs his school lunch made. From there, she is in constant motion, out of breath as she tends to the needs of four children. And though I live the extremely-busy-with-complicated-adult-business-meetings-and-teleconferences sort of life, I am not the constant chauffeur/butler/housekeeper to children who’ve not yet mastered the art of holding adult conversations with a frazzled mommy.

In all that going and blowing, in the flurry of activity, what happens to rest for my wife? How does she carve out quiet places to decompress and dream? Often, she doesn't.

And this, I think, is where my befuddlement with men’s retreats, hunting trips, and the like comes in. As men, we are intentional about carving out time for ourselves. But these sorts of retreats leave the women at home alone--again--to tend to the children. The father's retreat becomes the extended work week for the mother.

This is not to say men don’t need time to decompress. After all, we all have stress that needs blowing off (or blowing up, depending on the sort of retreat). But if we’re not seeing the corollary need for our wives carve out the same kind of retreat for themselves? I suppose you could call that sexist.

(Was that too strong?)

This morning, Amber is away, writing in a coffee shop. It’s no weekend retreat of massages and shopping, but it’s a mini-break from the routine of the day. There, she’ll prepare for a lesson she’s giving to a local women’s group, drink a few cups of coffee, and maybe have an adult conversation or two. It’ll be one morning where we trade roles, where I tend to the constant needs of our children's morning routine while her mind is free to wander and dream a little.

Soon, Amber will attend a women's conference. There, she'll spend time with good friends, cry about whatever it is women cry about at those conferences, and catch a catnap or two. She'll be filled with life by human connection. She'll be recharged by rest.

I carve out these spaces for Amber because I think women need retreat just as much as men. I carve out these spaces because here, in these Fringe Hours--these times of making space for herself--she is refreshed. I carve out these spaces because when she returns, when she hugs me and thanks me for tending to the harried life of chauffeur/butler/housekeeper, I’ll look into her eyes and see a woman alive.

[tweetherder]And what man doesn’t want to be married to woman who is fully alive?[/tweetherder]

*****

Fring Hours

 

I wrote this post in celebration of the release of The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You, the new book by my friend, Jessica Turner. Maybe you're a mother who needs to learn the art of carving out time for yourself. Maybe you're a fella who knows your wife needs to carve out time for herself. Either way, grab a copy of The Fringe Hours. You'll be glad you did. (Really... go on... BUY IT HERE!)

 

 

*****

In this month's Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I'll be discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. Look for the newest edition later this week (the week of February 15). And if you sign up today, you'll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song "Train Wreck." It's a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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 *Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

On Winter Rest and the Imitation of God

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

"To everything - turn, turn, turn; There is a season - turn, turn, turn; And a time for every purpose under heaven." ~The Byrds

The frost of an Ozark winter has set in. In the mornings, the frigid sheen of colder nights blankets grass and cars alike. It is a thinner frost this January--the temperatures being more temperate across these hills than in years past--but it is frost nonetheless. This sheen washes the color from the mountain pallet, leaves a nostalgic impression as nature's white contrasts against the black and gray of the early morning sky. Some may say that winter is the bleakest season, but there's beauty here if you're willing to find it.

All of nature is still here. The mole in my front yard has ceased his tunneling, stopped somewhere between the two mounds of rich black dirt pushed up twenty feet from my door. Come spring, I'll need ideas to rid my yard of the pest (anyone?), but for now, he and I both rest.

The birds have all flown the coop, and they have left the leafless oaks still and quiet. The oaks stretch exhibitionist arms upward, spines straight but still in a posture of rest. The butterfly and moth larva have burrowed deep into the warm earth under these oaks, and the king snake rests in his den under the warmer, lower layers of the compost pile.

All nature is at rest here, all nature--that is--except the squirrels. If God made a single animal with boundless energy, with an inbred inability to cease striving, it is the squirrel. They spring from branch to branch, drop down to the ground looking for opening pecan husks. Even still, they are gathering, hoarding. I consider their dens, the liberality of their nut stores, and I wonder whether God chuckles at the busybodies of creation.

In six days, God created all these things. On the seventh day, he rested. It was his Sabbath, his winter holiday. He created this rhythmic calendar, the seasons that speak to nature's need for Sabbath. (All nature save and except the squirrels, that is.) And creative as he was, he breathed life into the dormant dust of nature--this nature which itself rests--and created man. Yes, we are made from material that needs a fallow season.

"Cease striving," he says, "and know that I am God."

 

*****

In this month's Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I'm discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I'm speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines' household, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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America #2 (The Murder of Rest)

1.

All good things must come to an end, and so, I murdered rest. You read that right. Read it again. And for the sake of clarity, at the expense of redundancy, let me put it another way: I strung up sabbath, fastened a few millstones to its feet (the neck seemed overly-dramatic), and pitched it into the sea.

2.

This is hyperbole. No, maybe it's not.

3.

It's the perfect crime if you consider: the murder of constructed concept produces no body, at least, not straight-away. There is a body in the end-- your own to be exact-- but a man's gotta go somehow, whether by the cigarettes, the black-lunged cancer, or the over-striving of the green soul.

Come to think of it, cigarettes might just be the product of over-striving. Who knows. I don't.

4.

Anyhow, the death of a middle-class over-striver goes barely noticed by investigators. They don't come knocking with warrants and inquisition, but send the youthful eulogizers who say things like, "he was such a hard-working man," or "he had a real protestant work ethic." They mourn the loss of the salt of the earth, ascribe virtue to accomplishment, to the ability to take time and turn it into loaves and fishes.

5.

Is this hyperbole? I don't know. Maybe it's not.

6.

As a child, rest was second-nature, maybe even first nature. There were twelve hours of stillness in any given Tuesday. I slept, sure, but even waking watched the frogs blinking milky filmed eye-lids from just above the surface of an Ozark mud puddle.

I watched and watched.

I closed my eyes, breeze against blush, and gape-mouthed, gulped the wind on which scissor-tailed flycatchers rode. I sat in the hammock of mother's apron, head against beating heart as the thunderstorm lumbered quaking across the Texas plains.

At one point or another, I slept in all these places-- on the river bank by the mud-puddle, in the gentle winds of a Texas field, in my mother's apron hammock.

7.

It was with great deliberation and malice afore-thought, then, that I murdered rest. You ask the murderous motive, and this is not the proper question.

Haven't we always wanted to be limitless man, greater than even God who rested on the seventh day? Haven't we believed that we could shine somehow brighter than even the morning star?

Yes, questions of motive are obvious. It is the question of resurrection that takes greater imagination.

*Photo by Flick, Creative Commons via Flickr.

On Sabbath as Rest, Resistance, and Recovery

This month, at the behest of Kelley Nikondeha, I've been reading Walter Brueggemann's book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. It's been a grand read, a short one beneficial for all those inundated by the anxieties of our fast-paced society. Today, I'm sharing a few reflections from Brueggemann's book.

*****

“YHWH governs as an alternative to Pharaoh, there the restfulness of YHWH effectively counters the restless anxiety of Pharaoh.”*

In the Spring of 2012, I found myself consumed by metrics. Our youngest son, Titus, had not been gaining weight, and our local doctors began requiring weekly weigh-ins. We were asked to log his food consumption, and began tabulating his caloric intake with near neurotic precision.

After months of struggling to pack on a few pounds, Titus began losing weight, and we landed in Arkansas Children’s Hospital where a team of doctors determined that he was “acutely malnourished,” and diagnosed him with “failure to thrive.” He was a slight child, caving in on himself.

In this season of struggle, the pressures of work were unrelenting. I practice law by day, and though my colleagues were generous (more than generous, in fact), the time away from the office began to take a toll on my practice. My metrics were slipping; I was, in an economic sense, experiencing my own failure to thrive.

There was no rest for the weary, and my life became sort of anxious cycle—from the frying pan of the office to the fire of family distress, and back again the next day. All the while, the metrics kept slipping, and slipping, and slipping: less weight gain than expected; fewer dollars collected; less new business.

I created pharaohs from whole cloth, watched them lord over me with whips. “More bricks!” they shouted. “More weight gain; more business!” And under the weight of these anxieties, I gave up and reached for the bottle.

Continue reading at Kelley Nikondeha's site. (Really... go there... continue...)

 

*Quote taken from Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now,  by Walter Brueggemann.