Writings by Cole Huffman

Shoulding All Over Myself

I regret to inform you that God taught me nothing on my recent sabbatical except how wickedly precarious it is to successfully evacuate the bowels of an RV’s waste tank. I shoulded myself (say it aloud and the pun is obvious); that is to say I should have lifted the hose at the tank connection to ensure the black water stuck in the neck of the hose fully emptied before disconnecting. It was a mistake I didn’t repeat again.

I’ve never really liked the What did God teach you question, probably because it was posed in my college days by the spiritually supercilious to whom God taught something daily, which the committed meticulously wrote down in their Day Timers along with what times they would shower and eat (and thought every true disciple should). You know the type—guys who would empty an RV’s waste tank perfectly the first try, then lead a happy family devotional to raptly attentive kids: What is God teaching us? Seeing my plight at that Colorado RV dump station my family fled to a nearby candy store. God has taught us that when Dad is trying to hose a few gallons of spattered poo water off his arms and legs he will not be quoting us Scripture.

On second thought perhaps God did teach me a more meaningful thing or two during my six weeks away. Like how to sleep peacefully. Don’t underestimate this, both-ends candle burners who know we should rest more and better than we do. “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2). Anxiety spoils everything God made good, like sleep, and a week into the sabbatical I realized thoughts of things at church weren’t waking me up in the night as usual. So we could say God taught me I am too much the anxious toiler, subconsciously tucking worries into bed with me most nights.

One book I read during the sabbatical is Kevin DeYoung’s compact Crazy Busy. In it he conveys the story of Olympian Bernard Lagat, a professional track athlete and American record holder. For one month every year Lagat takes a full break from running—a track sabbatical. He doesn’t do what he should do. He doesn’t train at all for five weeks, eats whatever he wants, chases his kids around, and gains eight pounds on his lithe Kenyan frame. He’s done this every fall since 1999 and calls his enforced inactivity “pure bliss.”

That describes my sabbatical well-enough, except for the bliss part. I wouldn’t call my sabbatical blissful. It was enjoyable, especially traveling out West three of the six weeks. Despite the aforementioned septic mishap there was joy in being fully present to my wife and children. There was joy in the seven of us sharing the close quarters of an RV and hotel rooms with one bathroom, logging thousands of highway miles together and no one killed anyone. The sabbatical was helpful too. I got to soak in the Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching seminar led by one of my favorite authors in a Rockies family camp setting.

Because I took the sabbatical as a matter of course and not because I had to, I missed working at times. Driving hundreds of miles each day was the only sense of accomplishment the sabbatical afforded, that and reading many books. I suppose if one takes a sabbatical because he’s worked himself to burnout he doesn’t miss work and wishes the time away from it stretched on. But that wasn’t me. I like my work and six weeks and seven Sundays away was just right.

I do wish I’d prayed more during the sabbatical. I went into it thinking I would, and a couple of weeks in began shoulding all over myself that I wasn’t. I hadn’t planned any major assessment of life or ministry but thought in having this extended time away from work I would infuse it with more prayer. But herein another thing we could say God pointed out to me: My assumption that prayer would come easier to me in off time was a flawed assumption. Turns out it was harder to set aside prayer time when I was idle than when I’m crazy busy. I think this is because prayer is not leisure but work and in my experience best integrates with workaday living. I never pray as much as I want to anyway but I don’t have to “make myself” pray when I’m working.

Unless that work is emptying an RV’s waste tank. But then the “praying” is kvetching to God about the inglorious design of RV dump tanks, and do I really need this experience of the doctrine of depravity real time? Ah well. At least one of my kids brought me a chocolate almond confection from the candy store for my troubles. She thought she should.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 10:35 AM
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7/11/2014 at 11:50 PM by Chris

Great stuff here, both in the comic (sorry for your misfortunes with the black water) and the dramatic. I enjoyed your reflections at the seminar and I am glad you have had time to put miles on the road and miles into relationships with family. Keep up the writing and the reading Cole, it is enjoyable.

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