Lately I’ve been noticing that when I get so busy, I don’t drink enough water. What reminds me of this is that I get thirsty. You know, "they" say that when you’re thirsty, you are already dehydrated. So, by the time I gulp down a big glass of water, I’m doing something good for my body, but it is sort of out of desperation, and my body is still thirsty shortly after. I’m behind. I should be drinking so that I don’t get thirsty. Taking any kind of downtime, let alone sacred downtime, is sort of like this for me. I feel by the time I finally take that time, I’m in a place where I have already desperately needed it, and my thirst is not quite quenched. Some of you have gotten better at this the longer you’ve served or the longer you've been in ministry. Or maybe you’ve gone in phases where you've had some seasons where you are regularly taking the time you need with God, and yet in other seasons, it has felt quite dry. Recently I had the privilege of caring for a Homiletics professor in my home, and he told me about the wonderful preacher Barbara Brown Taylor. She is a priest, professor, theologian and one of the United States' best known preachers. I recently listened to one of her sermons on sacred downtime, and it got me thinking just how important this time really is, and just how little we take it.
She teaches on this topic in one of her Spirituality classes, and the goal is to help the students to understand the answers to these questions:
Who are we when we are not doing anything?
What does God want to tell us during this time?
She helps them understand the necessity of taking downtime, or rather helps them realize quite quickly the absence of it in their crazy busy lives. She starts by asking them to do an assignment: 3 - 20 minute periods of complete silence and to write about what happens, what they thought about, what they learned, etc…
She goes on to say that there is a difference between downtime and the sacred art of stopping, and that it is like the difference between going to a mall and a sanctuary. When you have downtime at a mall, there is still the hustle and bustle around you, where on the other hand, could there be a place you might call a sanctuary, a place where you can hold still long enough to hear your heart beat?
This past Fall, I went to a nearby park for 1/2 a day to have an uninterrupted chunk of sacred downtime. I knew I needed it; I was already very thirsty. What happened was that God quenched my thirst. I felt his presence. I felt him calling me deeper into the woods; I looked around in complete silence and just appreciated His creation. He even provided an opportunity for me to pray with a hurting woman that day in the park. When we make space for sacred downtime, God gets busy with us, as Barbara Brown Taylor says. One of the reasons we need to have longer periods of sacred downtime, especially since we are probably taking it so rarely, is that we need to give ourselves ample time to get rid of all the noise. It’s a cleansing time or a cleaning out of all the distractions, or like Henry Nouwen calls it, a time where God tears down all the walls we've erected.
Barbara Brown Taylor says if it is LIFE that we want, not just for us, but for those who share life with us, we will find and recognize the importance of taking sacred downtime.
Many of you already realize how important this time is, and you make time for it regularly, but maybe some of you are like me, and you struggle to find that time, and are constantly thirsty. Let the first eight verses in Psalm 63 be our prayer today, and a reminder to make time to be still, to give that time to Him, to hear God's voice and allow God to renew us from within.
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.