I’m sitting at a table this morning breathing mountain air and relishing delicious silence. Until ten minutes ago, I’d been spending the morning out on the deck of the cabin, bestirring myself only to move my chair to chase cool shade as the sun began its march. Ponderosa pines barely move in the almost non-existent breeze. This is good.
A week ago (where did the time go?) we left home with another couple, some of our dearest friends with whom we’ve shared every stage of life. No one could ever be called poor who has had such friends. Three of the four of us are now retired. As usual, I’m the odd one out. I love what I do, but I seem to be the one most dreading leaving the high country. I love preaching, singing, writing, “pastoring,” and, retired or not, I’m sure I’ll never completely stop doing those things until, well, I completely stop. (Unless my Father has a different plan, I expect the singing to go on.) But after almost thirty-nine years of doing all of the above from the same home base, I could do with, say, a six-week sabbatical if I could get my paid staff to cover for me. Oh, wait. What staff? And trying to get things done ahead for that many great weeks would not be great.
Even a pre-vacation week of what my brother calls the “pre-tripulation” was no fun, but this present week has been great. I preached and sang during the first weekend. That’s not really being “off,” I guess, but doing so at 8,600 feet or so in the mountains is a sweet pleasure.
Most of us should take much more time “off” to be worth much more when we’re “on.” Some time spent just breathing and “being” helps us keep our “doing” in perspective. That’s no small gift. Our Father knew what he was talking about when he prescribed, yea, verily, in his Commandments, some regular down time.
One of the things I’ve learned, yet again, about myself is that I spend too much time dreading things. I’ve always spent too much time worrying, and that has never been fruitful. My Father is right about that, too. I don’t think my tendency to worry is sinful—part of my propensity toward anxiety is as much inherited as are my blue eyes—but a significant portion of it is just dumb. My job, with God’s help, is to try to rein it in.
In the mountains, I do better at saying to myself, “You’re off, Curt. If you feel a need to worry about something, put it off until you lose altitude.” I do fairly well at that. But dread is worry’s scrawny twin. Nobody loves home more than I do, but I know how these days fly by, and unbidden comes the always unwelcome mental image of mountains in the rear-view mirror. I dread re-packing even as I’m unpacking. Dumb and dumber. I know. But did I claim that this is rational? I did not.
I managed to finish a fairly large project and several smaller ones before we left. I’m thankful. And surprised. But I still have in my head, like anyone with responsibilities, a list of “to do” items and events that are waiting for me at home. Most of them are good. Even enjoyable. I still dread getting back up to speed. I’d gladly wait another month.
Some of my “dreads” are more significant. The time with my three companions, one of whom I’ve been married to for 48 years, has been remarkably sweet. I dread the time when we’re down to three, but I need to be celebrating the time we’ve had and still have together. (And I really do; I’m not that neurotic.)
Strange maybe, even as a “dreader,” I’ve never particularly dreaded the end of life, except for causing sadness for my loved ones. Author Bill Bryson reports in his great book The Body: A Guide for Occupants, that slightly more than 8,000 items make up the list of things that can kill us, and “we escape every one of them but one.” Interesting. And he’s not factoring in the Christian belief that our “end” is no end at all but the most wonderful beginning, the eternal description of which is Joy.
But right now, well, I dread a list of things from the morning’s quietness passing, to the ending of a good cigar out on the deck (forgive me, but I’m unrepentant), to the bottom of a great cup of New Mexico Piñon Coffee, to the vacation’s end. I dread packing. I dread losing altitude. I dread next week’s quarterly IRS payment. I dread… I dread your reading this column and discovering that I’m a whiny idiot.
Jesus says this is no way to live. Instead, he urges us to gratefully focus first on God, his kingdom, and his provision. For paragraphs now, wise readers have been wanting to tell me that the medicine for this affliction is to live in the moment, marinating each of them with gratitude. The Lord agrees. And then he says, “[D]o not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” I smile when he adds, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). That sounds practical, realistic, and very wise.
Time to pack. That which I have dreaded has come to pass. Rats.
Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.