“Another luxury for an idle imagination is the writer’s own feeling about the work. There is neither a proportional relationship, not an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.” -Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Monday Morning Rehash
Dillard’s reflection on a writer’s idle indulgences applies equally to pastors and worship leaders. We have a tendency toward an unhealthy obsession with our own performance. For myself, I find that Monday mornings can be the worst for this.
Depending on how I feel my preaching went the day before, I can walk into my study on Monday with either a lightness or a heaviness about the week ahead.
On a week that felt clear, crisp, and engaging, I can almost skip into the text and commentaries for the coming Sunday. Other weeks, I rehash a transition that I fumbled, or an all-too-obvious reference that I left out and should have made, or a conclusion that wasn’t as tight as I imagined before hand.
I can even recall certain faces in the congregation. “Did they yawn? Yeah, I can totally tell that last phrase got through to her. Was he sleeping? Was she angry or confused or just thinking deeply about what I just said? Why am I pacing back and forth? At what point did I lose them? Look at how many notes they’re taking this morning! How long has he been on Facebook?”
I recognize that we don’t control the responses of the people in our pews, bleachers, or theatre seats. And I know that God is faithful – far more faithful than I have thus far imagined – to work through my fumbling, botched sermons just as well as those I would consider successful. And yet. Yet somehow, I find myself from time to time caught up in the Monday morning rehash, evaluating my preaching performance.
Dillard’s insight – “The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.” – applies equally well to me as a preacher as to any writer out there, especially on Monday mornings. So, how do we guard against the temptation to do a Monday morning rehash of our Sunday sermons?
Three Steps toward Monday Morning Faithfulness
I have several practices that I turn to that contribute to faithfulness on Monday morning. Over the past year, three specific practices have helped me to be more faithful and less self-absorbed on my Monday mornings.
Thanksgiving: I am finding that the posture of thanksgiving on Monday helps to reposition my entire attitude about the weekend. I give God thanks for the privilege and opportunity to preach, acknowledging both how the Spirit led me in preparation and in the actually delivery of the sermon. I also give thanks for others that were involved either in preparing, facilitating, or directly leading some aspect of our worship: the A/V team, nursery helpers, ushers, and greeters often come to mind. Musicians, scripture readers, the planning team, artists and many others contribute to different movements within our worship gathering.
As I have learned to give thanks for them and to say or write a thank you to them, my own heart is strengthened and in awe at the cloud of witnesses the Spirit is working through each week as worship together. And as I give thanks for them, the temptation “to fixate on my performance” with the sermon decreases.
Get into Creation: I’ve also found that I am far more prepared to resist the rehash temptations if I can spend time in creation on Mondays. Occasionally this practice means hiking a trail or sitting somewhere near a waterfall. Most of the time, however, it simply involves taking a walk in our neighbourhood without my phone, doing a little yard work, or sitting on our back porch.
There is something about the act of being still in creation that realigns my perspective. When I see the rocks around the waterfalls or lean against a thick tree or simply turnover dirt in the garden, I remember that God has been at work creating, sustaining, and transforming far before giving me life and will continue to do so after I am gone. Taking time to get into creation helps me remember that God is God, and I am not.
Pray for the Congregation: One of the disciplines that has helped the most on Mondays has been to pray for our congregation. I pray specifically for about 1/10th of the congregation each week. By deliberately praying for a segment of our congregation on Mondays, I am entering into the pastoral care of our congregation alongside our other leaders. More than that, I am training myself to attend to others instead of sliding into the temptation to think about preaching in terms of my work performance.
In a very tangible way, the practice of praying for our congregation is cultivating my love for God’s people. In doing so, I am in a healthier posture to begin engaging the week ahead, not as a series of tasks, but as a calling to love God’s people through all that I do, including the work that goes into preparing for next Sunday’s sermon.
How about you?
What practices do you have that help you guard against a Monday morning rehash? What spaces help you to be still so that you can remember that God is still God? How do you cultivate your love for God’s people?