“You really did bring this on yourself, then.” she said. I was shocked. My husband’s exact words coming out of this lab-coated, spectacled, medical professional. Somehow they sounded different in the glaring light of this office than they had in my living room.
“So,” she continued, “This is my prescription, and I mean it: Do not be productive. Stop. For the next few days, if it doesn’t absolutely have to be done, you don’t do it. Do nothing. Do you hear me? Order take-out, skip cleaning the house, whatever it is, let it go. This has gone on far too long.”
I have been sick for twelve days. Twelve. Days. When I first got sick, I dutifully plunked the kids in front of the TV with fistfuls of granola bars and thermoses of water, called in sick and tucked myself into bed to shiver under quilts for the next eight hours. That was my sick day. And when the day was done, I basically resumed normal life. Except I was still sick. And exhausted. So I wasn’t present with my children, my husband, my work, myself. I wandered around in a stuffy, achy fog for a week and finally dragged myself into the doctor to score some antibiotics and kick this thing, only to be told it was a nasty virus that would need to work its own way out.
“If you’re not better by the end of the week, come back.”
I was back.
“Hot liquids and naps.” she announced. “And stop being productive.”
Telling me to stop being productive is like telling an alcoholic to stop drinking. “We heard you were sick,” someone said to me last Sunday morning. I was. But that didn’t stop me from going to church. Even though someone else was preaching. Even though everything was already taken care of by others. Even though I was sick. And at least three different people asked me, “Why are you here?”
I would’ve asked them the same thing.
What is it about ministers, that we’re willing to sacrifice our own humanity for our sense of duty, responsibility, or inflated view of our own "necessary-ness"? What is it about moms? My friend told me the other day that her college-aged daughter had said to her that week, “But, Mom, you have never been sick!”
“That’s because when I was sick you all still had to eat and be driven to soccer practice.” she had answered.
Sitting there being chastised by my doctor I realized what an utter hypocrite I am. In a congregation that embraces Sabbath, that seeks wholeness in our lives and relationships, I had been doing the opposite of what I believe and preach. As a mom who wants my children to be healthy people with good habits for self-care, I was a disgraceful example.
There’s a reason for the rhythm! The regular work and rest cycle that God designed inside us and in the world around us. It’s a pattern! as my kids would say. Rest can’t be hoarded and doled out as a reward or saved up like vacation time. Just make it through this couple of busy weeks and then I’ll slow down for a week. I thought. But my body announced loud and clear that it doesn’t work that way.
But there is so much that needs to be done! But I’m useless laying here, and bored! But people need me! But I’ll get behind… I’ll let them down… I’ll seem weak… I’m not REALLY THAT sick…
Recently I heard someone say that pastor-types tend to be really in touch with the universal human needs for meaning and purpose, so they focus heavily on these and often tend to be less in touch with other human needs such as exercise and rest. I would admit that often I listen well to the promptings of my heart and mind and overlook the messages of my body and soul. And for many, it becomes only when we are forced to Sabbath, as Wayne Muller describes, by sickness or injury, other outside factors, that we actually do finally rest. So our lives preach to our children and our congregations that we don’t actually believe that God is God and we are God’s beloved children, but rather that producing, consuming, contributing and controlling is what we worship, and we are slaves to the system that will not stop.
So, I hope I’ve learned my lesson, although I’m sure it’s a lifelong process. And even as I say this, there are several things in the next few days I am not yet able to say I can not do. But my hot tea is beside me and I’ve napped on this couch. And I’ve done nothing productive this afternoon(other than this blogpost). So I give my husband, children, and congregants carte blanche to call me on my hypocrisy when I forget to live what we believe. And when I start becoming what I do instead of living wholly who I am, I want someone to remind me of my humanity and tell me to stop being productive.