In the long run, I contribute to the church most by being a man with a good marriage and a reasonably healthy family.
—Ben Patterson

You might call it cruising or hanging out. In my family we call it "oozing": nothing in particular to do, everything in general, whenever we feel like it, if we do. It's the polar opposite of the way the rest of our lives are lived.

Some people complain when they have nothing to do. We rejoice. With G. K. Chesterton, we never have enough of nothing to do. The Pattersons love to ooze. We hoard like hidden treasure those days when we can just watch television, start reading but never finish four or five books and a dozen magazines, walk aimlessly around town, or talk and drink coffee till we're giddy with caffeine.

Recently my wife, Lauretta, went to visit her family in Minnesota for a week. She took along our daughter, Mary, and left the boys and me to fend for ourselves. So, we oozed for the whole week, consuming junk food and renting videos every day. I even cleared my afternoons; every day after school, I welcomed my boys at the door.

The church, however, also anticipated our week of bachelorhood. We received numerous dinner invitations, as the ladies of our church looked to mother us with their chicken dinners. It was a wonderful gesture; I guess they thought we'd starve. But micro-waved burritos and pepperoni pizza sounded just fine to us. So as tactfully as I could, I refused their generosity, explaining vaguely that we had other plans—plans to ooze with the guys!

Juggling church, family, and personal time is a nagging source of tension for pastors. Our culture organizes around the weekend, but weekends for the minister are work days. On top of that, our weekdays don't end at five o'clock. So the lines between ministry and family time are constantly crossed.

I often come to the end of my week feeling like a quarter miler gasping for breath at the end of a race. The debt is not for oxygen in my body but for oxygen in my soul: ooze time with the ones I love. And as an introvert I feel acutely the crunch on my alone time. There are times when ministry seems interminable.

Over the years, though, I've made some progress at keeping these areas in balance. Here are some insights that help me do that.

Know Your Signals of Imbalance

Balancing these areas begins with reading the signals of overload. We all have them.

For instance, the bathroom scale often tips me off. I envy the people who, under stress, lose their appetite. For me, though, it's just the opposite. Weight gain is a good indicator that I'm under stress and that my life is out of control.

Anger is another signal. Sudden explosions toward my family broadcast to me that I'm under pressure.

Still another is when the kids start resenting my instructions. If my discipline is reasonable, and they become annoyed with me anyway, that's a clue my family misses their dad.

Feeling that my family is just another thing I have to do is another yellow light. When I am so tired and harassed that I approach what ought to be ooze time as a chore, I know something has gone wrong.

So, when one or more of these signals get my attention, I know it's time to put my life in better balance.

Keep the Sabbath Free from Necessity

More than anything else, for me a healthy and balanced life is the product of keeping a regular Sabbath. By stopping for a day, the Sabbath sets every activity and responsibility back in its proper place.

My childhood Sundays were consumed with nonstop church meetings. As a youth minister and pastor, I kept up that wearying tradition. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, upon discovering a Jewish rabbi, Abraham Heschel, who actually felt thrilled about the Sabbath. His book. The Sabbath, is about a love affair with the seventh day. To Heschel, it is a gift to cherish, a joy to be anticipated rather than a day to endure.

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