I let out a deep breath in my place of refuge. All moms of young children know exactly where I’m talking about: The bathroom. It’s the only place in the house where you can be alone and lock the door … just for a moment … before they find you.
Then …. a blood curdling scream.
“Crap!” I yelled,as I jumped up, pulled up, and ran out the door. “What’s wrong? Where are you two?”
“Mommy,” my 4 year old giggled, “My butt is a monster!”
I put my head on the wall and sighed a sigh too deep for words and thought: I took a sabbatical from the wrong place. In 13 years of ministry, no one has ever screamed about butt monsters (not yet at least).
This is the scene I was thinking about when I ran into a friend today. Upon seeing me, the friend asked excitedly, “Are you super relaxed on your sabbatical?”
I let out another sigh. How could I say no? How could I say yes? How can a person relax when butts turn into monsters? How can a person relax when you can’t pee in peace? How could a person relax when you haven’t done so for years? How could a person NOT relax when they’re given time to just relax!!! What is relaxation anyway?
Lately, I’ve been trying very, very hard to relax. As you may know – and as I probably know in my head but not in my heart – trying to relax mostly leads to not relaxing at all.
I was approved for a purposefully restful sabbatical for this summer. Which means I am off work for the sole purpose of resting. I am not preaching, teaching, or pastoring, so I can be relaxing. So I can breathe off some of the tension and weight I’ve been carrying during 13 years of ministry, 10 years at my call, and 16 months of a pandemic. People have voted on, approved, and paid for me to relax. So, let’s face it, I better get our money’s worth out of this. Just relax. Turn off the switch.
But there is no off switch. You can’t just turn off worry and care. You can’t erase those years of expecting the phone to ring with another death, another tragedy, another problem to address. You can’t turn off the worry of hearing what’s behind those cries (whether they be primal screams or teeny tears). You can’t just drop all the balls that you’ve spent a lifetime keeping afloat.
As it turns out, I too have a monster up my butt. It’s called: doing, achieving, accomplishing, adulting. I’m really good at putting pressure on myself to accomplish all the important things in life. Which is why I took on the task of relaxing as I do everything else: as something to be accomplished. I had a list of all the relaxing things and I set about to do them.
A stack of books. After receiving recommendations from friends and family, I brought home a stack of books from my mom’s personal library. I was excited to immerse myself in word and story, but when I started to read my focus and speed wasn’t up to par. I got frustrated that I hadn’t read enough. So, I pushed myself to keep going and going. Achievement: 3 books finished. Relaxation level: null.
A day at the beach. The sand and surf has a way of bringing us closer to our Creator. There is nothing better than a relaxing day at the beach. My husband and I packed our wagon full of chairs, umbrellas, sand toys, shovels, diaper bag, snack bag, cooler, hats, sun screen… Pulling the wagon, we carried our toddler and ran after our preschooler. We spent the day making sure one child didn’t eat sand and the other didn’t run into the waves. Achievement: family fun. Relaxation level: zero.
TV Binge. The ultimate relaxation: couch potato. I searched my streaming platforms for a TV show to sink into and binge. I had trouble finding something not dark and depressing, but finally settled into a Masterpiece Mystery series about historical criminal cases. It was so very good. Very interesting. Very engaging. Slightly disturbing. A little soul crushing. Achievement: 1 Show binged. Relaxation level: lowish.
Massage. I brought in the big guns. I splurged on a massage, the sole purpose of which is to relax. Yet 4 1/2 years of motherhood stress, 13 years of ministry, and 16 months of pandemic stress can’t just be rubbed away. In fact, when the masseuse started on my back, I roiled in pain. “Woah, what are you carrying?” she asked. “The world,” I joked. Every place she massaged, hurt, but it was a good hurt. Achievement: physical healing. Relaxation level: medium.
Nap. Many times in the last weeks, I have laid on the bed or couch, completely exhausted, closed my eyes, and waited for that glorious nap to happen. I laid there and laid there. I thought and thought. I worried and worried. I told myself: “Sleep! No really, sleep! WHY WONT YOU SLEEP? FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY: SLEEEEEEP?” Achievement: frustration. Relaxation Level: Below zero.
I’m trying so hard to relax, I’m exhausted. I hit a point the other night in which I thought something must seriously be wrong with me. Here I have time set aside to rest and I can’t even do that. Yet, I don’t think I’m that much different from so many of us, who have trouble giving ourselves a break. Who have trouble dropping some juggling balls. Who have trouble letting go of control. Who have trouble really listening when Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt. 6:34).
What Jesus tells us here is that it’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to stop what we are doing to look out at God’s creations – the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to say: I’m going to not worry … just for today.
This is the lesson I learned that morning when my preschooler announced that her butt had turned into a monster. I took a breath. I looked at the toys scattered about my house. I looked at the cheerios spilled on the floor. I realized that I may not be able to relax in the way I was hoping (I also realized that I might not pee in peace for the next decade, at least). I giggled a bit and thought: if this is just the way things are, then maybe that’s okay.
A few hours later, I dropped my kids off at daycare and my husband off at the airport for a business trip. On the drive home I listened to the song “One” by Sleeping at Last from his album that explores the sacred Enneagram. As I listened to his song on 1s (the reformers), my heart soared.
“The list goes on forever
Of all the ways I could be better, in my mind
As if I could earn God’s favor, given time
I, I want to sing a song worth singing
I’ll write an anthem worth repeating
I, I want to feel the transformation
A melody of reformation
I’ll hold it all more loosely
And yet somehow much more dearly
‘Cause I’ve spent my whole life searching desperately
To find out that grace requires nothing
Grace requires nothing of me”
Rest requires nothing of me.
I came home to a quiet, empty house. I felt like reading, so I cuddled up on the couch. The next thing I knew, I woke up from a nap I hadn’t planned to take. I was not woken up by alarm, or phone, or cry for mommy. I woke up because my body said, “we slept; now we wake.”
It felt good. It felt relaxed. It was enough for that day.
This morning, I was woken up by a Minnie Mouse nose in my face and a teeny voice in the monitor calling out: “Mommy, get me uppy.” Sleepily, I took my precious early risers downstairs for juice and Cheerios. They fought over morning cartoons. One wanted to watch Pete the Cat. One wanted to watch Mickey’s Mixed Up Adventures. Then they both ran around giggling and screaming as they turned into silly monsters. I held my mug of coffee and breathed in and out, surveying the chaos. I practiced letting go, remembering that today’s worries are enough for today… and sometimes, just sometimes, they require nothing of me.