I didn’t preach last Sunday and I won’t be preaching for at least the rest of the Sundays in August. Last Sunday was by no means the first Sunday where I was not preaching. It wasn’t even the first Sunday where I wasn’t preaching to either or both Knox and St. Mark’s Presbyterian churches. I have enjoyed vacation absences, I have been sick, I have even been prevented from preaching by the weather (this is the prairies after all). So why did it feel different?
At first I though it might have something to do with being off sick but that doesn’t make any sense. I have missed Sundays before because I was sick. I haven’t been absent due to sickness very often but I have. I missed due to one of my knee surgeries at least once (I think), I missed due to bone spur surgery, I think I missed due to pneumonia. Illness, accident, these things happen to every one eventually. Both congregations realize this and have always been very understanding and supportive when I have needed to miss a service. This time is no different. I have received nothing but affirmation regarding this time off due to stress. It seems any oddity I might be feeling comes solely from my side.
I wonder if there is some guilt over taking time off for something with no obvious outward manifestation. When a person undergoes a surgical procedure, there is usually some physical sign something happened. Serious physical illness, pneumonia for example, usually has some physical sign. Stress? The physical signs of stress, at least for me, are not so helpfully obvious. I am jumpy, which is very odd for me but common for many. I am sleeping very poorly, waking up at least once and frequently multiple times every night, but no one sees that but heather. I almost wish I got bags under my eyes when I haven’t been sleeping properly so I at least looked tired . . . but I don’t. Perhaps I am looking at myself, in the mirror and in the mirror of my mind, and not seeing anything “worthy” of time off from the pulpit.
The good thing is, we don’t live solely by sight. I try to tell myself I am not “faking” anything, if nothing else, I don’t think my psychiatrist and my therapist are easily fooled . . . and I’m not an actor. When I start to wonder if I deserve time off I go first of all to the physical, so to say, experts who have prescribed the time off and confirmed the need for it. Then I review the conversations I have had with the people who know me best, all of whom have confirmed I am not making anything up but was (and still am) in dire need of something . . . probably time off to rest and recuperate. Then I ask God to help me understand what’s going on, specifically asking if I am making more of this than is really there. It doesn’t happen every time I ask but sometimes I have the unmistakable feeling of the mothering Holy Spirit wrapping herself around me and saying, “You are loved. You need this. You’re okay in your time off.”
So when I reflect on how last Sunday felt different than other Sundays I have had off I am encouraged to realize I am doing the best thing and not only for me but for my family and for both the congregations I serve.
Disclaimer: not sure if this is actually a disclaimer or not but if you would prefer to only get notification when a sermon is posted, let me know and I’ll see if I can figure out some way to make that happen. Your alternative is to make a rule in your email app to delete anything from me that has “Stress Leave” in the title which should accomplish the same thing.