Renewal: Sacred Pauses for Leaders

The headline just below the fold in last Tuesday’s National Post intrigued me:

New mantra for working fathers: Lean out. Financial titan quit after critique by daughter.

The article told the story of Mr. Mohamed El-Erian, Chief Executive Officer of the world’s largest bond firm and the father of a ten-year-old daughter. One evening, he asked his daughter why she hadn’t yet brushed her teeth since he had already reminded her several times. In response, his daughter handed him a list of 22 milestone events that he had missed in the last year — her first soccer game, parent-teacher meetings, a Halloween parade — all because of his overly demanding work schedule. Convicted, he took the drastic step of quitting his job.

Not everyone has the luxury of doing the same thing, but all of us face the challenge of how we use our time and choose priorities. The National Post article described the experience of some high-profile men, Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer of Facebook) wrote about the challenges faced by women in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadAnne Marie Slaughter (President of New America Foundation) wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” What’s often called “work-life balance” is an issue for men and women all up and down the corporate ladder and beyond it as well.

A few weeks ago, I led a retreat for Mennonite Foundation on this theme, and what follows are my notes for Renewal: Sacred Pauses for Leaders presented last Saturday as part of the Canadian Mennonite Health Assembly.

1. “Work-Life Balance”

  • Balance seems precarious, like someone trying to walk a tight rope and juggling half a dozen bowling pins at the same time.
  • So instead of balance, I prefer to think in terms of a healthy rhythm of work and pausing from work, where each is given its due.
  • Work is not the opposite of life, but part of life along with family, household responsibilities, church, community, sports, hobbies, personal fitness, and everything else.

2. Work and Pausing from Work

  • Genesis 1 – God works (speaking creation into being) and pauses from work (seeing that creation is good, blessing it, marking the end of each day).
  • Exodus 23:12; Isaiah 58:13-14 – The rhythm of creation would later develop into the practice of the Sabbath as a time of refreshment and delight.
  • 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life (Tyndale, 2012) by Matthew Sleeth as one example of Sabbath practice.
  • Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal (Herald Press, 2013) by April Yamasaki tells how pausing became significant for me personally.

3. Pausing Together with lectio divina

  • Mark 6:30-46 (Common English Bible)
  • Sharing: What did you hear from God during this time of sacred pause? Where did you sense your attention pausing as the Scripture was read (three times)? How is God speaking into your life through this Scripture?

4. Five Affirmations of Renewal

1. Jesus realizes that we need rest.

Jesus’ disciples had been following his example of preaching, teaching, and healing. They were so busy they hardly had time to eat. In his invitation to rest, Jesus recognized their need for pause and renewal.

Like the disciples, we are also busy with good things, and at times may even feel as if we hardly have time to eat. Our work is a gift and a wonderful way to express our creativity and compassion, but Jesus also invites us to pause from work (cf., Matthew 11:28-30). That too is a gift.

2. Jesus has compassion on us.

Jesus offered compassion to his disciples who needed rest, and compassion to the crowds who were “like” sheep without a shepherd. Only they weren’t without a shepherd! Jesus was their shepherd and is our shepherd today, the One who has compassion on us.

3. We may not always get the rest we need when we need it, but we need to take it when we can.

The disciples’ much needed rest was postponed in the face of the overwhelming need of the crowd. In our lives too, sometimes we might plan to rest, but there’s a sudden emergency, an unexpected phone call, someone is sick at work or sick at home, or when we have time to rest, we can’t get to sleep. Rest can be elusive, interrupted by any number of things.

But by the end of the story, the disciples at least had time to eat with the rest of the crowd, and Jesus sends them ahead of him by boat while he dismisses the rest of the people. Then Jesus himself found time to pause in prayer at the end of our text. For us too, rest may need to be postponed, but only for a time — we need to pause when we can.

4. Jesus will supply our need.

The disciples didn’t think they had the resources to feed such a crowd, but they had more than they thought — with the five loaves and two fish, God had already begun to supply for their needs. We might also wonder whether we have the energy and resources to care for the people who depend on us. When it comes to taking time for renewal, we might think we don’t have time for that either. But as The Cloud of Unknowing says,

You only need a tiny scrap of time to turn toward God.

Whatever the need, look around — we have more resources than we might think at first, as God has already begun to supply our needs.

5. Jesus will supply us with abundance!

God multiplied the loaves and fish to feed the crowd, and afterward, the disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. There was more than enough! – for everyone to be satisfied, to sustain the disciples on the next leg of their journey, or for some of the crowd to take with them on their long walk home. Today, Jesus also supplies us with abundance, with bread for our journey as well.

5. Closing Prayer of Thanks


Writing/Reflection Prompt: Try your own lectio divina with Mark 6:30-46. What insight or affirmation of renewal would you add to the list above?


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