The Power of the Pause

pauseT-minus four days until my first class. And, not surprisingly, I find myself overwhelmed once again. If you’ve ever taught before, you know that putting together a class the first time around involves a tremendous amount of pre-work. New business require startup capital; new courses require startup studying. So, in essence, I’m trying to cram a semester’s worth of learning into a week and a half. And seeing as one of the books I’ll be teaching from didn’t arrive until today, I definitely have my work cut out for me. I’d love to have my course website fully populated with data and all my instructional handouts created before the semester begins, but there’s simply no way that I can have all my “I”s dotted and “T”s crossed before Wednesday.

Two days ago, my “house-mom” Marie* (owner of the basement where I’m currently living, as well as the rest of the residence on top of it) alerted me to the fact that she would be cooking dinner for me this evening, in order to welcome me to the house. Yesterday, she pulled a 15-pound turkey out of the deep freeze. She had about 20 little yellow spuds scrubbed clean and laid out to make mashed potatoes, as well. As the afternoon ticked by today, I found myself inexorably pulled (a’la Hanna Barbera’s “Snuffles“) toward the mouth-watering poultry aroma wafting down from upstairs. As I made my way up from the depths and started talking with Marie, she invited me to accompany her and older daughter Leah* to Macy’s; she had a 25% off pass that was only good today, and it would nicely fill the time between then and the golden moment when the turkey thermometer couldn’t stand the pressure any more.

I was faced with a choice: I could politely decline, descend back into the depths, and continue hoeing my little scholastic row; or I could take a few hours respite and engage in an activity that was completely “unproductive.” I opted for the latter, and I can’t say that I’m sorry. We raided the clearance racks; we scoured the sales floor; we tried on enough outfits to keep the sales associates reshopping for hours. And, although I promised my mother I wouldn’t buy anything, I must admit that this Thanksgiving Day I’ll have a (small, mind you) personal stake in the festivities that weave their way through lower Manhattan.

We arrived home, finished the final preparations, and sat down to a delicious dinner; afterwards, we sat around the table and swapped stories. I helped clean up and was back in my little grotto by about 8:00, mentally and spiritually refreshed. I hadn’t realized just how starved I had become for human interaction — moving to a new area and trying to set up housekeeping has a marked tendency to isolate one if s/he isn’t careful. Having a prolonged face-to-face conversation was like a breath of fresh air for me.

I also realized (yet again) the importance of taking a pause. It’s not easy — especially when deadlines loom, the temptation to “keep pushing through” approaches at juggernaut strength. But as a good friend has reminded me on many occasions, that’s not God’s plan for us. Constantly “pushing through” not only strip-mines us of all our physical, emotional, and spiritual resources, but it also lures us into thinking that our worth lies in what we can produce. There’s a reason that God declared the Sabbath Day holy; yes, it gives us a chance to retreat and recharge, but it also reminds us — forcibly, at times — that our worth comes from the God who created us rather than the projects we ourselves create.

Have I fully learned this lesson yet? Um, no. Not even close. Resisting the urge to rely on the Power of Caffeine to get me through all-nighters is going to be a herculean task over these next four years, and I have the distinct feeling that it’s one at which I will inevitably (and, if I’m honest, repeatedly) fail. But if I’m going to make the most of this opportunity to stretch my mind and fill my soul, I need to be a good steward of the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual resources that God has given me — and a big part of that is the wisdom to know when those resources are being stretched too thinly. And I guess that’ll start now: I have nine hours until church starts, so I’m headed off to bed.

*I’ll be using pseudonyms for my “house-family,” to protect the innocent. 🙂

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