Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sibling Assignment #133: Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy

I assigned my sisters and me to write our thoughts about this: Remember the Sabbath. Keep it Holy.

InlandEmpireGirl's reflections are here and Silver Valley Girl's are here.

The Fourth Commandment is on my mind all the time, so it's not surprising that I woke up one morning with it running through my mind, and made this assignment.

Why is it on my mind so much? It's rooted in my struggles with clinical depression and to maintain good mental health.

I love my work. I love teaching, the subjects I teach, the students I work with, and the instructors I teach with. My work, however, has also been a source of my problems with mental illness.

Over the course of my career, I've been willing to work too hard. I've been willing to go beyond the call to duty, to do extra things for my students, be deeply involved in business related to the college and my department, eager to innovate, always raring to go. For this I've been praised, rewarded, and given an award.

I assumed that if I worked myself selflessly past the point of fatigue, then I was doing my job right and doing it well.

On top of this, I was willing to give a ton of energy at church. I served on the vestry, served on committees, was involved with education projects, preached sermons, and even hosted and administered a monthly lecture series.

For a job I love, a church I love, and for God, whom I love, I pushed myself past the point of fatigue. I lived out a classic case of being willing to run myself into the ground for the Lord. I ignored the Fourth Commandment. It rarely crossed my mind to obey it.

It never crossed my mind that in the same ways that adultery, stealing, worshiping idols, all firm Commandments, would damage my life, so would ignoring the Sabbath.

In November, 1999, I contracted a nearly fatal case of bacterial meningitis. In keeping with my overachieving-things-will-fall-apart-without-me delusions, I returned to work in January of 2000. Not even two months had passed since I'd been in a coma and suffered serious trauma to my physical and neurological system.

After my first week teaching in January 2000, I slept the entire weekend. It never crossed my mind that maybe I was stupid not to be on medical leave. I struggled with post-meningitis headaches, further fatigue, and depression, but acted like it was all normal and kept pushing forward.

Even though I went to church services, I did not in any way Keep the Sabbath. My life had no rest. Repeatedly, I fell into bed exhausted and I experienced plenty of comatose-like sleep, desperate sleep, but I did not rest. I kept no Sabbath.

By late 2004, I couldn't maintain this way of life any longer and began to crack: I began to suffer severe headaches, terrible mood swings, long periods in bed, isolation, high anxiety, even paranoia.

I had to slow down. I had to start integrating the spirit and practice of the Sabbath into my daily life, making refreshment as much a part of my daily routine as work.

Over the last six years, I've slowly begun to slow down. I'm willing to teach the same syllabus term after term and not pressure myself to innovate. I've worked to slow down in the classroom, trying to exert my energy more efficiently, not being quite as dramatic and wild as when I was younger. I've asked less of my students, thus asking less of myself.

I've let go of the idea that if a student doesn't learn all there is to learn about writing from me, they won't learn it.

I've let go of the idea that the courses I teach are the most important courses my students will take.

Having exaggerated the importance of my instruction and of my courses fatigued me, created unnecessary anxiety, and wore me down.

Exaggerating my importance violated the Sabbath.

Not only did I not Remember the Sabbath, I did not even think of keeping it Holy.

I'm finishing this blog post on Labor Day, and at this moment I think that of all the Ten Commandments, Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy is the most ignored and abused of all.

Americans work themselves into the ground and Americans work other Americans into the ground.

Imagine a social work case load of over one hundred high need aged people.

Imagine working six ten hour days a week driving truck for bosses who always complain and are on your back to get things moving faster.

Imagine having a middle management job in an multi-national accounting corporation where you are doing the job once done by three people.

Imagine being a administrative assistant to academic administrators who have basically turned over their high stress responsibilities to you, so that you are, de facto, running a huge academic apartment in a major university's department at the pay of staff person, not an administrator.

These are the situations of just four of my friends and the last thing on the mind of the institutions they work for is Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy.

These friends are being worked into the ground. It numbs the spirit. It engenders bitterness. It wears down the body.

It's the American way.

But not the way of the Fourth Commandment.

Slowly, surely, I've integrated the Sabbath into my daily life. I cherish refreshment.

Lately, my family and friends have been my best experience with the Sabbath.

I recently had my annual physical examination and the results were the best in many years.

I haven't dropped into the black hole of mental and emotional madness since about February of 2009.

Over the last two years I've enjoyed fun and restful times with family, including the Last Cousin Standing Hootenanny (a family reunion); I've been involved with two merry reunions with friends I went to high school with; I meet friends from work every Thursday at Billy Mac's for dinner and drinks and largely non-work related conversation; Russell and I try to get out once a week to take photographs and have lunch; I'm in contact with many good friends, old and new, as well as my sisters and cousins through Facebook; Adrienne came to visit in May; Molly and Olivia are here now; Pat comes down every few weeks; I've slowly become active in church again without letting my church participation wear me out.

No wonder my exam at the doctor went so well.

In a way pointing to refreshment of my spirit and enlivening of my soul, God is present in all of this.

It's all Sabbath to me.

Remembering the Sabbath and Keeping it holy is a daily thing.

I relish it and it keeps me whole.

No comments: