I’m type “A” when it comes to work. The type A-ness helps me mostly, but some days it causes me to feel pressed for time and unable to really prepare for things as well as I would like to. I want to do more for middle schoolers, to be their spiritual guide and their goof guru. But there’s so much to do, I say to myself, and often miss out on opportunities to really see students where they are.

Today I was reading my cherished old school copy of A Guide To Prayer for Ministers & Other Servants when a reading from Henri Nouwen freed me up. I may have looked at this particular reading twelve times since college but it didn’t quite arrest me like it did today.

He says, “often we’re not as pressed for time as much as we feel we’re pressed for time.”

The opening line was interesting, I kept reading.

He remembers a time when teaching at Yale when the demands felt so thick that he withdrew to the Trappist monastery at Geneso, New York. He planned on retreating from his planning, teaching, lecturing, and counseling so he could experience solitude and prayer.

Then he recalls the second day of his retreat when a group of high school students arrive at the monastery and ask Henri to give them a retreat. Henri puffs to the abbot that he did not come here for the “enormous work” of preparing five meditations for these students. He said, “I don’t want to do it.”

The abbot told him, “You’re going to do it.” And Henri replied, “Why should I spend my sabbatical time preparing all those things?”

The abbots reply…

“Prepare? You’ve been a Christian for forty years and a priest for twenty, and a few high school students want to have a retreat. Why do you have to prepare? What those boys and girls want is to be a part of your life in God for a few days. If you pray half an hour in the morning, sing in our choir for an hour, and o your spiritual reading, you will have so much to say you could give ten retreats.”

The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of preparedness so that, when someone who is drowning in the world come into your world, you are ready to reach our and help. It may be at four o’clock, six o’clock, or nine o’clock. One time you call it preaching, the next time teaching, then counseling, or later administration. But let them be part of your life in God–that’s ministering.”

Like I said, arrested…

*Reading from “Time Enough to Minister” in Leadership (Spring 1982)

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