by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
I work. A lot. Sometimes too much. And it’s my own fault. It seems, so often, that there’s so much to do, so many opportunities for ministry, and on, and on, and on.
And yet in the midst of the mayhem. In the midst of the busy-ness of the everyday, I feel and hear that still small voice calling me back. A voice calling me back to love, and to be loved. To be still, and silent, and attentive to the voice of God I’m so skilled at ignoring.
It’s been nearly three years since I blogged about sustainable ministry. It was the end of a stressful time in my life, and I was moving on to new challenges, including my current ministry in Ottawa. It was in that moment, in that gap between what was, and what is, that I found the time to write self-reflexively. It was in that liminal space that I was able to write about my need to find sustenance in the midst of the here-and-now, in this world where everything is urgent.
I found myself asking then, as I have again recently – so much in this world is urgent – yet how much of it is important?
I find it easy to fall into the habit of taking on too much. I could call it a sense of responsibility or a servant’s heart. I’m sure it could be called many things, yet when it gets out of control, it leads to exhaustion, disconnectedness, and a dried-up well of love.
It’s easy to say yes to opportunities as they present themselves, whether teaching seminars or preaching in various churches; whether coordinating new ministry initiatives or meeting with students over coffee.
But there came a point last fall when it all became too much. I was tired. Exhausted. I had neglected sabbath for too long. I had mistakenly put into the “important” pile many things that were simply “urgent.” There’s a difference, and I’m slowly catching on.
Strangely enough, in the midst of some much-needed downtime in December, and even now as I’ve returned to work, the words of 1 Corinthians 13 have been ringing loud and clear for me:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
What had dried up, somewhere along the way, was love. I had reached a point where some days I was simply too exhausted to care. It’s hard to do much when you’re that tired. It’s certainly difficult to love.
Insert noisy gongs and clanging cymbals here.
Or, insert, if you will, love.
Several years ago, as I was sitting in the halls of Kalighat, one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying in Kolkata, I massaged the cancer-ridden legs of a young rickshaw driver who could no longer walk. It was in this place of holy communion that a nun, as she was translating our conversation, paused, and shared with me a piece of wisdom that still needs to sink far deeper into my being:
“Mother always used to say” she said, “we can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
In that moment, my heart broke. As I continued to massage his legs, tears began to stream down my face. In that moment, I knew these words were true. I also know how easy it is to forget such words, and to get caught up in society’s (and my personal) delusion that more work is what matters most.
And yet I continue to hear that still small voice wondering aloud: just where is the love?