Eleven28’s policy is that every four years, full-time employees take a forty day sabbatical. On July 1, I will have been full-time with eleven28 for four years. It’s time for a short rest. Here are my thoughts about where God and I will intersect during this rest.
I’m not a big fan of this tree.
It’s leaves and berries are constantly in our pool. It grows so quickly and it’s in such shallow soil that stray branches poke through the ground as far as 2 ft away from the trunk.
I don’t find it particularly pretty, either. It’s scrubby. Its branches are rough. It doesn’t flower or bloom. Its berries attract birds that stay a while and leave their….uh…mark. Its branches grow down as often as they grow up. It grows countless seersuckers.
In a word, it is overgrown.
It has its purposes though. It provides shade to a corner of the pool, making the water more enjoyable in the heat of the day. And while this tree could be removed and another tree planted there, this tree’s deepest roots would always surface, poking through the ground in unwanted places. Besides, the climate and our world do not need one less tree.
Therefore, I prune it. I trim it back every couple of months, soon after its low branches have left a mark on my forehead as I walk beneath it. Pruning makes it presentable to my preferences but more importantly, it allows the tree to be who it is made to be – a healthy piece of the sacred ecosystem that is our backyard.
In this morning’s quiet, birds are singing and branches are swaying in the wind. The weather is calm and pleasant as it awaits 100-degree heat. In this peace-filled moment, I have a question for the Gardener.
Why is my anger overgrown?
Therapy and spiritual direction have unearthed this emotion in me, given it voice as it breaks through. As I prepare for my sabbatical, it is the emotion most accessible to me, yet it’s scrubby. It grows in all directions, and it has left marks on the world around me. My Christian experience and my time in the business world taught me that happiness and positive outlooks are the rewards of a good life. They are to be prayed for, sought out, and celebrated when achieved. Why would anyone pray or seek anger, my past asks me? Anger was best ignored or explained away, perhaps even requiring repentance. The result of 40+ years of this teaching and self-talk is that a constructive and useful emotion is immature and self-serving. I do not wield my anger well.
Instead, I choose rage, frustration, and resentment.
As I consider this unfavored tree and unhealthy forms of anger, I notice a few things about my soul:
In my rage, I lose nuance. I find it much more motivating to chop the tree down than to devote time to it. Similarly, I know that my anger isn’t to be chopped down, pruned to the ground in hopes that it grows back differently. For me, rage is a result of feeling that my options are limited and unacceptable. As a result, rage and lack of nuance are a deadly cycle, each repeating and reinforcing the other.
In my chronic frustration, I struggle to see beyond the upkeep. I have difficulty imagining this particular tree in my backyard being anything other than scrubby and high maintenance. I roll my eyes that it needs constant attention and often creates as many problems as it solves. This is very much how I see the American church right now – high maintenance and only vaguely helpful. In my anger, I see no beauty there; I see only needless tiresome effort.
In my resentment, I have thinned out my relationships. Perceived loneliness, shunning, and isolation are a source of resentment for me. Some of my relationships need new life, having withered through a pandemic. Other relational boundaries need to be kept as they are for the sake of my overall spiritual and emotional health. Some new relationships with low expectations are needed, too.
To my sabbatical I bring this request for the One Who Gardens: In my rest, help me name and be fully present to the gifts of anger. Help me prune it so that it fills a well-designed place in my soul. Help me discover its roots so that I can tend them.
To do that, I’ll be spending four days mostly alone in the mountains on hikes and soaking in hot springs, sitting on big rocks with nothing between me, my anger, and God. I’ll be working on the holy ground that is our back yard, possibly letting loose a few choice words as I work through the heat. I’ll be seeing baseball games with my boys and with Marla. I’ll be going to cooler climates. (I’m pretty sure oppressive heat only increases my anger!!). And I’ll be taking day trips here and there to be with people who see me as I am, not as what I do. About half of it will be doing a whole lot of nothing.
See ya in 40 days.