Remember that movie with Tom Hanks where he gets snagged with immigration issues, and ends up living in an airport terminal for months? Well, thatís what I felt like this past week. I intended a quick in-and-out trip to Newark to visit with clergy and laity about the Five Practices. Instead, I ended up stuck in Newark watching one flight after another to St. Louis get delayed, then delayed again, and finally cancelled. This meant I had to stay an extra night in Newark, and then another extra night. Fourteen flights in a row that had my name on them were cancelled. During that time, I was snowed in and lived in an airport hotel with the courtesy shuttle providing my only entertainment, taking me back and forth between hotel and terminal. Each day Iíd spend about six hours at the airport standing in line and talking to airline reps in person and travel agents by phone. I ate four consecutive hotel Club Sandwiches. (The restaurant also offered salmon, steak, etc, at about $35 a plate, but thatís more than I can pay in good conscience, so I settled for their cheapest item, a $10 Club for lunch, dinner, then lunch and dinner again). I did make one free trip on the hotel shuttle to the airport just to grab something from the airport food court for a little variation. Itís pretty bad when you look forward to the gourmet at the airport food court to add a little pizzazz to your diet!
As soon as I realized I was stuck, I began to cancel things. I rescheduled five appointments I had planned for Friday, and sent word that I may not make it to Kansas City on Saturday morning and Springfield on Saturday afternoon for Confirmation Days worship services. I was supposed to visit with the leaders of a congregation on Saturday evening, preach four times on Sunday in Springfield, and visit with another congregation Sunday afternoon. I sent out the ìheads upî that I might not make it.
I tried everything to change flight plans, pursue options, and to figure out how to get home. I overheard some of my fellow travelers making elaborate plans, such as taking a 19-hour train ride to Chicago and then driving from Chicago to St. Louis. Another was planning to fly Newark to Washington, then Atlanta, then to Nashville, and then rent a car to drive to St. Louis. I could sympathize with their frustration and their desire to try anything. Sometimes it just seems like doing something is better than just waiting and doing nothing. But nothing is all any of us could really do. A long time ago when I found myself churning and churning to make things happen in a situation over which I had no control, I remember someone telling me, ìRobert, donít just do something; sit there!î
And so back at the hotel I sat. I walked a bunch of treadmill miles in the little fitness center. I read a newspaper for the first time in a month. I caught up on my journal. I watched my first presidential debate that Iíd been able to catch. I fell asleep the first night at 10 p.m. and didnít wake up ëtil 9 a.m. Thatís eleven hours. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something. The next night was a repeat of the first. And I read a paperback novel, and drank hot tea, and paced, and made phone calls until my battery ran low. Mostly, I waited.
Hereís the funny thing: I was so frustrated and exasperated at being stuck against my will for two days. On the other hand, for the last two months Iíve desperately wanted a couple of uninterrupted days for writing. But I couldnít write. My attitude was keeping me from enjoying and making good use of this enforced period of rest. I didnít like it, and I struggled against it, but there was nothing I could do. My spiritual agitation was keeping me from receiving an unexpected gift.
Didnít John Wesley write a tract entitled, ìOn Redeeming the Timeî or something like that? When you actually stop to think about it, redeeming our time is redeeming our life. By redeeming our time, I donít mean filling every single second to overflowing with tasks and achievements, with work and busyness. I mean making time sacred, useful to God, holy. Or maybe itís better to say, redeeming the time involves discovering the holy, the gift-like quality, the grace of time. It involves perceiving time differently, looking at time through Godís eyes.
Sometimes we rush along on the horizontal plane, pushing, pressing, all forward motion, doing and doing and doing. The tyranny of the urgent stifles creativity, reflection, rumination. Mary and Martha taught us that, didnít they? Which chose the wisest? And Jesus told his disciples, ìCome away to a place by yourselves and rest awhile.î I suspect that was not an invitation to laziness, but to reflection, renewal, rejuvenation, resurrection. Sometimes God has a way of reminding us, ìDonít just do something, sit there.î Breathe in a little Sabbath. Itís a gift God gives us, and sometimes we just donít get it until events bring our busyness to a screeching halt.
Yours in Christ,