Jonathan David Faulkner
I love the yearly ice-breakers professors do, especially those that force you to get to know something about your classmates. One of my professors has you fill out an entire notecard full of information like what denomination you came from, what you hope to get out of this course, what is your prior interaction with the material (if any) and what you want to do after Seminary. It is almost boring now to say your name and degree program since so many of my professors have come up with unique ways for the class to get to know each other. Another professor takes the introductions to another level so that you not only have to go around the room and say your name and degree and something interesting about you the first day, you have to do it multiple times throughout the semester and you had better be taking notes since part of your midterm and final grades were going to hinge upon you knowing your classmates.
In the spring two of my professors, during the general introductions, asked students to list the hobbies they had. One by one almost every person in the room said: “My name is_____________ and I used to have hobbies before I came to Seminary.” To be honest, it was heartbreaking to hear so many people say they had given up their hobbies upon entrance to seminaries. Now, to be sure, some of them still likely made time for those hobbies when they were not on campus, during reading weeks, during breaks. During the 20 weeks of the year they were on campus and engaged in classwork, a lot of them had barely picked up their hobbies.
I understand, Seminary is difficult, we are here to be trained to be pastors and counselors and church leaders and the rigorous nature of the work does not always allow for breaks during the week and when we do find downtime it is often filled with catching up on sleep. For those of us who work during our time here, that tends to throw another wrench in the works as we then have to balance life, classes, work and still find time for R&R.
The Idiomatic “No rest for the weary and the righteous do not need any” tends to be a mot for seminarians and for some of us, it was how we were brought up. In some churches I have heard horror stories about how those who take rests are condemned as lazy. Those are extreme cases, but we tend to adopt a “Sleep-when-I’m-Dead” mentality as seminarians regardless of our upbringing. The pressure to perform coming from our professors, those back home, brothers and sisters in our halls and from faculty and staff pushes us to unhealthy habits and attitudes in regards to rest and relaxation. Seminaries tend to still operate as if we live in the 1970’s and one income can pay for rent along with all your other seminary expenses. So while the amount of work required to take care of ourselves (to buy food, pay rent and the like) the workload given by professors has remained the same and in some cases seemed to increase. Somewhere in their we have to find time to sleep at night, though some of us forgo that during the closing hours of the semester.
I suppose I have been put in a unique position by my brain, since I recovered from the injury I found that I could only engage so many houses a day before my speech became slurred and I begin to get confused. That’s why if you ever go in to the city with me I do everything I can to get back before 9 because it is literally like a switch. Sometimes I am luck to get 13 good hours depending on the intensity of the work I’ve done throughout the day. In that, I have found that turning to hobbies has allowed me to overcome that a bit. Just like when I was going through the initial steps of recovery and playing my guitar and singing were the only ways to clear my head and ease the pain. My hobbies then have become a means for me to cope with the likely lifelong affects of scrambling my brain.
I do believe that hobbies and interests, for the most part, are God-given and open up a unique means for us to glorify Him. That’s why when The Opened Eyes works up a new song and the guys ask me what I want it to sound like I have emphasized that they bring their own unique musical abilities to the song and I want them to use those gifts for God’s glory, so it is okay to do whatever you feel led to do. The cool thing about that approach is that we have never actually had a difference of opinion over a song and the music has taken on its own unique life, even for songs we have played ten or more times.
It is also why I am strict about getting to Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday Mornings, why I still make time for video games, why I take long bike-rides early in the morning and why I always have a non-seminary book for reading. Some of those are done with others, some are done alone and some are just me and my wife sitting on the couch with books in hand while JJ Heller sings to us from the television. I know I will be rethinking a lot of this come February when our little one joins us here in the great big world, but what is life without some curve balls and excitement.
The fact is, you, the human you are, as made in the image of God, is way more important than your grades, then your professors opinions or others expectations of you. If you devalue yourself to get a high grade, then you have still failed. If you go into pastoral ministry with an A average but have not learned how to care for yourself and others than you are not going to last long as a pastor. If you cannot take care of yourself, emotionally, physically, mentally, then you will not be in ministry very long because you will either burn-out early or die prematurely. The latest estimate from Church Leaders is that only 50% of pastors who start in the ministry last longer than 5 years. That’s a number that should give all of us pause and make us ask what we can do better.
One of the ways for us to push numbers like the one above is taking the personal responsibility for our own mental health and one of the ways we can do that is through investing in our hobbies and making time for them. By doing that which gives rest to our soul, not as a substitute to worship because that is necessary, but as a compliment to worship and time in scripture. God did not make you so you could burn out and die, He made you so you could have an everlasting relationship with Him and glorify Him in that. Not that you lose your salvation by burning out, but if a premature death can be avoided then it should be.
Your hobbies are a unique part of how God has made you. They are meant to help you draw closer to Him and to other whom He has given that interest too. So, do yourself a favor and pursue your hobbies while at Seminary, you may be surprised what God shows you about yourself.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.