TWO PARTS: Working on Emptying and Doing Empty Work

Part One:

Can you feel it?  Summer is about to end, and the energy is rising, like a late summer thunder storm.   At the same time, the easiness of at least the month of August leads to a bit of angst.  It is time to get back to real work.

In a recent CNN post, the theme was of work, and running on empty.  The phrase empty work—that is—in this constant attention to email and other forms of information, we (I confess my own propensity too) is to stay constantly in touch with office email, with all the forms of updated information available.  The author of the post, Andre Spicer, refers both to running on empty, and filling any left-over space with “empty work.”  It is strangely unsatisfying over the long haul.  I confess too that if I am not careful, I fill up the empty space with empty work.  It leads to forms of isolation; a strange irony.  Just when information of all types is at our finger tips, we suffer from a growing sense of disconnection and information or knowledge overload.  For example, any issue of concern can be addressed in an online search.  If your child is sick, it is easy to begin to research symptoms, which leads to more information on everything from disease to parenting, to studies on behavior patterns or research on the latest data on child rearing.  No subject is off limits.  Common sense no longer applies or so it would seem.  TMI—is stressful and perhaps addictive.

My conclusion is that the basics we know and resist continually remain valid.  Balanced lives, exercise and diet is key to good health.  It is too simple.  Time each day for breathing, walking, listening, being with others, even for those of us who are in ministry is basic.  It is called a “healthy ecosystem for emotional support.”  If we are too absorbed in work, unable to enter into a rhythm and pattern of relationships beyond those of work or work-related events; if we are our work, then isolation ensues.  At different times in our lives these patterns need to be examined and adjusted.  For ministers this is a hard though necessary adjustment.  Ministers in my view too often develop a syndrome of needing to be needed.

Part Two:

A secondary theme, though not a lesser one by any means, is what occupies my time and thinking.  In a world of overload information, the issues of importance to me—or ones I think of as important—seem to have taken a backseat to the constant flow of information and accoutrements which allow us to receive the information.  We mark this week the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march; the issues of violence take precedence in news reports and are two consistent reminders that the work of participating in a possible future in the present remains a priority—this is anything but empty work.

The challenge for me, and perhaps for you, too, is how to be balanced, engaged, and open to the primary work of justice, hope, and grace and to wellbeing. This is our call in ministry first and foremost.


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