At this writing, I am enjoying the “high country” of Ruidoso, N.M. Each year my wife and I pack up the dogs, a pile of books and my computer for a “Preparation Week,” when I plan my preaching for the next year. 


It is a wonderful respite from the busy life of a pastor, and it affords the opportunity to spend large blocks of time thinking about what messages to preach during the coming twelve months. Frankly, I have always disliked the “Monday terror” of wondering what to say next Sunday. Our annual trek to the mountains is a way to avoid that weekly challenge and to get a head start on the most important aspect of my work.


          There was a time, when I served in the Northeast, when I spent these weeks in the mountains of New Hampshire in a rambling old farmhouse surrounded by pine forest and luxurious piles of crystalline, white snow. In the middle of my study was a great old Franklin stove that gave off radiant warmth throughout that part of the house. The firewood was in the barn, and it was often accessible only by donning the snowshoes that were kept in the closet for just that purpose. 


Whether in the high country of New Hampshire or New Mexico , my February sojourns have been a highlight of my year. The product of the week is a plan that aids the church staff in leading Sunday worship and suggests directions for the congregation in their devotional reading. For me, it is like a roadmap that guides my journeys of reflection and study for months to come.


          I have come to believe that everyone, not only the clergy, could use a Preparation Week. While it may not always be possible to take off for a week in the mountains, most of us can, with a little creativity and advance planning, carve out some time to retreat periodically from our busy lives and think, pray, plan, and reflect. Without such times, life merely “happens” to us.  Before we know it, everyone else has set our agenda and we fall captive to lesser expectations. 


          We have friends, a married couple, who have lunch each month to plan their lives proactively. It may seem strange to see them, calendars and PDAs in tow, going over their next month’s plans while eating lunch. But I admire them for their practical wisdom, for they take the time to plan their time and make room for the important things that otherwise will be squeezed out by “the tyranny of the urgent.” They stop to think, and that’s the key.


          George Bernard Shaw once said that most people only really think once or twice a year. “I’ve made an international reputation,” he added, “by thinking once or twice a week.”


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