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Peterson on calendars and being productive


This is great stuff by Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor:

“The appointment calendar is the tool with which to get unbusy. It’s a gift of the Holy Ghost (unlisted by St. Paul, but a gift nonetheless) that provides the pastor with the means to get time and acquire leisure for praying, preaching, and listening. It is more effective than a protective secretary; it is less expensive than a retreat house. It is the one thing everyone in our society accepts without cavil as authoritative. The authority once given to Scripture is now ascribed to the appointment calendar. The dogma of verbal inerrancy has not been discarded, only re-assigned.

When I appeal to my appointment calendar, I am beyond criticism. If someone approaches me and asks me to pronounce the invocation at an event and I say, “I don’t think I should do that; I was planning to use that time to pray,” the response will be, “Well, I’m sure you can find another time to do that.” But if I say, “My appointment calendar will not permit it,” no further questions are asked. If someone asks me to attend a committee meeting and I say, “I was thinking of taking my wife out to dinner that night; I haven’t listened to her carefully for several days,” the response will be, “But you are very much needed at this meeting; couldn’t you arrange another evening with your wife?” But if I say, “The appointment calendar will not permit it,” there is no further discussion.

The trick, of course, is to get to the calendar before anyone else does. I mark out the times for prayer, for reading, for leisure, for the silence and solitude out of which creative work—prayer, preaching, and listening—can issue.

I find that when these central needs are met, there is plenty of time for everything else. And there is much else, for the pastor is not, and should not be, exempt from the hundred menial tasks or the administrative humdrum. These also are pastoral ministry. But the only way I have found to accomplish them without resentment and anxiety is to first take care of the priorities. If there is no time to nurture these essentials, I become a busy pastor, harassed and anxious, a whining, compulsive Martha instead of a contemplative Mary.

A number of years ago I was a busy pastor and had some back trouble that required therapy. I went for one hour sessions three times a week, and no one minded that I wasn’t available for those three hours. Because the three hours had the authority of an appointment calendar behind them, they were sacrosanct.

On the analogy of that experience, I venture to prescribe appointments for myself to take care of the needs not only of my body, but also of my mind and emotions, my spirit and imagination. One week, in addition to daily half-hour conferences with St. Paul, my calendar reserved a two-hour block of time with Fyodor Dostoevsky. My spirit needed that as much as my body ten years ago needed the physical therapist. If nobody is going to prescribe it for me, I will prescribe it for myself.”

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  1. Rick Hein

    May 6, 2011 at 2:46 am

    I read this book a number of years ago and still list it as one of my all time favorites and most helpful books. Peterson challenges me and makes me think deeply about God and my own life. “Working the Angles” is another one that is worth reading.

  2. Gitanajava

    May 7, 2011 at 6:06 am

    Ah, I feel so affirmed! 😉 Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when I had a large and demanding law firm as a client, I picked up an important lesson from the senior partner. I often heard him reply to demands on his personal time with, “Sorry, can’t do it — I have an appointment with myself then.” He never offered an explanation beyond this statement, simply a a gracious and genuine smile. He taught me a lot, too, about “the broken record” technique. Some people can be insistent, but he’d repeat himself exactly in the same firm, friendly tone.

    His style often reminded me of Matthew 5:37(a): “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’”.

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