When you get to the end of your twin marathons – known often for campus ministers as Fall Semester and Spring Semester – it will be time to get curious about whether or not you have rested at all during the course of these two long stretches of the academic calendar we all live by. Are you exhausted? Ready to quit? Thinking about other work which may be less taxing? These are all signs you may be suffering from a lack of true rest. Of course, there can be other reasons behind those thoughts and feelings. They deserve to be explored. However, the best way to explore them is to first get some rest and quiet to settle down any part of you that simply is tired before you make critical decisions about the future.
What practices could you explore to help you work diligently next year AND offer adequate rest? Once, when I moved to a new campus, the schedule already included a late-night bible study. After two years of meeting students at 10 pm, one night a week, a colleague asked me if I was always going to have our meeting start that late. It was the question I needed to explore, in order to come to a place of confidence that I could change the weekly ministry schedule. That one change in my weekly schedule paid off in huge dividends for me personally, as well as for the ministry. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to start something that late at night!
I’m not naturally inclined to slow down. I think many who are in ministry are probably built the same way. We have a mission to accomplish and there are always more things or tasks to work on and people to meet with than there are hours in the day or week. Just yesterday I was with a co-worker who has 36 people to meet with weekly. (I don’t know how he will actually accomplish this task!) So, given that I am always thinking about the next things I need to get done (like this article due in a few hours), rest does not come easily or naturally for me. I have to work at it.
I’m in the regular practice of scheduling ahead in my calendar a monthly prayer day. Why? Because I need an entire eight-hour opportunity to get away from my regularly scheduled tasks to listen to the Father about how things are going and what adjustments I need to make, in order to be obedient to the tasks He is calling me to. I try to find a place to go where I won’t run into people I know. Places like another college campus nearby, a church that I don’t attend that can let me use some space, a park, and a coffee shop outside of my regular traffic pattern or sometimes a nearby retreat center for the day. This practice helps me follow the pattern of Jesus when he would pull away from the crowds for short periods of prayer. In these times He often heard direction from the Father guiding him into the next steps of His journey.
During these rest and prayer days, I try to focus on a passage of scripture. One of my favorites comes after the disciples have come back to be with Jesus after they’ve been out on a healing and ministry journey. The story is found in Mark 6. Jesus had sent His disciples out to heal and to teach. They come back to report their progress to Him and He invites them to get away from the crowds and get some rest (Mark 6:30-31). I spend some time reflecting on other scriptures on rest. I look ahead in my calendar to see what adjustments I need to make in the next 30-45 days. I will write in my journal about the experiences of the last 30-45 days. I pray over these things in the quiet of this prayer day and often the Father reveals something that needs to be adjusted.
A helpful resource is either of Alan Fadling’s books: An Unhurried Life or An Unhurried Leader. Fadling shares some spiritual disciplines that aid Christ followers in resetting for adequate rest. Practicing these disciplines has helped me uncover sinful parts of my life such as people pleasing. There are a couple of free downloads and resources at www.unhurriedliving.com
I find practicing disciplines such as these to be an ongoing need in my life, not a one-and-done kind of thing. So can I invite you to consider setting aside a day at the end of this semester before the summer routines take effect for you to spend time with the Father reflecting on your own practices of work and rest. Get curious and creative about how to enter into rest in the midst of the marathons waiting for you in the coming academic year. Perhaps as a starting place, you could go ahead and schedule those monthly prayer days for the next 12 months.
Beth Smith is a Campus Consultant in Texas. She can be reached at [email protected].