By Starlette McNeill
I am sitting in the chair and my feet are in the water. I agree that the temperature is good. My pedicure has begun but the argument in my head continues.
Do I really have time for this? Maybe I should stop her now. She could charge me for nail polish removal and filing. My feet aren’t that important. No one sees them anyway. I should be doing more than this. I could be doing things more important and always time sensitive.
She touches my feet and starts assessing areas that might need more attention than others. While she does this, I begin to review my to-do list and negotiate how much time is needed to still get it all done. To be sure, this is a working pedicure.
The chair attempts to massage and I sit up, unsure if this is what I should be doing right now. I can relax and lean into the mechanical arms or begin reading the files that I am holding close to my chest for fear that they fall into the water, which is at an agreed upon comfortable temperature. This is always the question, whether to rest a little or work more.
I need to rest but I want to finish my work. But, when did the work become more important? When did I start ignoring my needs in order to meet those of others? I can’t spend much time on that. I’ll make a note to think about it later. “Siri remind me to ….”
She pinches my skin with the tweezers. I focus on my feet for a while, looking for blood. None spotted and injury averted, I return to my list of things to do, which now does not include purchasing band-aids and Neosporin.
How much have I gotten done? I tally up my score and try to convince myself that this pedicure is my prize. Still, I feel guilty. I should not be rewarding myself for doing the Lord’s work.
I realize that she is almost finished so I close my eyes and attempt to squeeze them to sleep. I tell myself, “No reviewing or writing, evaluating or explaining.” I must confess that I thought that this would be a good article and began taking notes on my phone instead. The sleep didn’t come quick enough so it lost its turn.
After I had written down my idea and a potential introduction, I put the phone down. But, now I had a project to work on — if only in my head. The excitement of having work finished ahead of time! I picked the phone up again. If I finished this assignment, I would have less work to do. I convinced myself that I could rest better if I finished it.
I lose the struggle to care for myself most days. It is a familiar one for most, if not all, clergy as the needs of church and community are many. And it is hard to know when or where to take care of one’s self. It is difficult to discern and to navigate days off when you work for the Eternal God. Perhaps, I could pray for time to stand still. Called to shepherd souls, it is easy to feel guilty for paying attention to the details of our lives.
And I know better. I have read books on Sabbath rest and resistance. I place them on my bookshelves to prove to visitors that I know about rest. My actions, however, reveal that I do not know how to rest. I know because of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath that the commandment recorded in Exodus 20.8 means to “rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done. … Rest even from the thought of labor.” How I pray that I could have put those words into practice while sitting in that massage chair.
I know better because Walter Brueggemann has taught the lesson well in his book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. He would remind me to resist multitasking. He explains Sabbath as keeping covenant and in so doing, resisting the desire to collect commodities. He points out that we do both, evidenced by those of us who sit in worship and watch the clock. Our minds have already given us the benediction. Using the children of Israel as an example, he writes, “They may have gone through the motions of Sabbath; but they did not stop the practices of anxiety, coercion and exploitation that real work stoppage would entail.”
I have attended retreats that should remind me to rest my voice, my fingers and feet. But, it is hard to stop moving any of them most days. I think back to my days in seminary. How foolish was I to think that I would spend my days at the church walking labyrinths and reading Scripture.
Today, I am sitting in my office and looking at my feet. It’s almost time for a pedicure. Didn’t Paul say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news (Rom. 10.15)?” So, it is not a reminder to get a pedicure, as this beauty is not due to paraffin wax, nail art, callous remover and hot towels. But, it is a good reminder to allow someone to serve me, to wash my feet just like Jesus did the disciples. I guess I should remember this as soon as the self-care struggle begins.