I last wrote about doing nothing as spiritual practice. Work can also be a spiritual practice. It requires responding not reacting, and making decisions about what is important rather than being distracted by a shiny new Internet object. Spiritual practice involves attention. It is harder than ever to pay attention to our work in this way, and it is more important than ever. For ministers and other spiritual leaders, it is essential.
Here are some ways to experiment with the practice of work.
- Set times for starting and stopping. The Bible says, “Pray without ceasing,” but it doesn’t say “work without ceasing.” In fact, it says just the opposite. Ministry is unpredictable, but we don’t face a crisis every single day. For me, starting early and ending early has always worked, with a good break if I’ve got an evening meeting. Know your best rhythm.
- Clarify what’s most important. The last few months I’ve asked each day, “What’s the most important thing I need to do today?” And what are the second and third most important items? And I put those up front. I wish I’d learned to do that a long time ago.
- Set times for checking and responding to e-mail. E-mail as interruption is counter to work as spiritual practice. It’s allowing someone else to set your priorities, not God and your ministry purpose. I recommend you turn off automatic notifications. (True confession: I am least successful with this practice. I keep notifications off, but I check e-mail far too often.)
- Take breaks. Kirk Byron Jones, in his forthcoming book, Refill: Meditations for Leading with Wisdom, Peace and Joy suggests scheduling, in advance, 2-4 break times during the day. I find when I take breaks I get less tired, I’m more creative, and I am less cranky with others. But I haven’t tried scheduling them in advance, and I will. Breaks create some space around the work, which can bring more spaciousness to the work itself.
- Have fun. Sometimes I will set aside the priority list and ask, “What would be fun to do next?” I always know right away. Not all work days are fun. It’s called work for a reason. But most days if you look for it, you can find some fun in the middle of it. Smile at one of the children in your church’s preschool. Turn on your favorite music while you fill out your expense report. Visit the parishioner who always makes you feel better.
How do you bring spiritual attention to your work?