Don’t Check Your Email

By Steve Anderson

I know you want to. Don’t do it.

I know your finger is twitching and your mind is spinning. It’s only been a few hours since you left the office, but you are already feeling disconnected. It’s Monday (or Friday). You are supposed to take the day off, but it’s hard. You love what you do, and you love people. You want to be available. You want to be responsible. Selfishly, you want to be needed, to feel important, to feel productive. Perhaps you are missing something. Perhaps you are out of the loop. Perhaps you are just a bit OCD and you like, no—you NEED–to know that everything is in order, there are no loose ends. Perhaps you are hoping for some encouragement from a friend. Maybe you are just a little bored because you haven’t been alone and quiet for a month and you don’t know what to do with yourself.

It will just take a second, you tell yourself. I’ll just do it fast and move on with my day. It’s no big deal. It’s what I do, it’s what good youth workers do.

I’m telling you–don’t do it!

You can’t help yourself. You give in to the urge. You grab the mouse. The screen comes to life. You type your password. Voila! It’s your email inbox.

RE: Latest from Doug and Josh
RE: Meeting with Senior Pastor on Wednesday
RE: Copy of the budget from the treasurer
RE: Church picnic this weekend
RE: Coffee spill in the youth room
RE: Funny cat video

And then, like a dagger cutting through the clutter, there it is:

RE: PROBLEM LAST NIGHT

Please call me immediately. My daughter came home last night very upset about something you said in your message…”

My husband and I were so hopeful that our son would like this new youth group. How disappointing to have him come home and say he felt excluded…”

What were you thinking? I can’t believe you let our son ruin his new shirt by playing a game with grape jelly…”

I am very disappointed…your manner…pride…shame…poor judgment…lack of leadership…misinformation…inaccurate…cliquish…immature…our old church…change…the previous youth pastor…late…did you really…never coming back…copying senior pastor on this…”

It was only supposed to take a minute. Instead, your entire day is ruined. Your entire day is darkened by self-doubt and self-justification and self-flagellation. Checking your email was the worst thing you could have done.

Here’s the truth. All youth workers get these emails sometimes. They are par for the course. Being a pastor or youth worker, we are trying to please a lot of people, and God knows (Jesus knows), we can’t please everyone. We will have detractors, critics, maybe even enemies. And the words from these people hurt. They sting.

Sure, there are things we can learn from them. They might even be right about some of what they say, though perhaps they could have said it better. But that’s not the point.

The point is this: you don’t need this TODAY. After a busy week of teaching, counseling, planning, leading, sacrificing, crying, laughing, trying, and making time for teenagers and families who are broken and difficult and hard and mess. After a weekend at camp when you did not sleep, came home smelling like middle school feet, ate crappy food, chased boys out of the girls’ rooms, lost your new headphones, put up with drama-filled 14-year-olds, waited for the last parent to pick up their kids 45 minutes after everyone else, and came home to a spouse who had a weekend at home with the kids that was probably worse than yours. NO, YOU DO NOT NEED TO READ THIS TODAY.

You need to rest.
You need to exercise.
You need to walk your dog.
You need to play with your kids.
You need to read your Bible for pleasure.
You need to take your spouse on a date and not mention the word “church.”
You need to be a human being instead of a human punching bag.

What you DO NOT need to do is check your email. Because what I’ve discovered–what I’ve learned from making this same mistake over and over again–is that NOTHING good comes of it. One email out of a million is something that actually needs to be taken care of today, and if it’s that serious, you can wait until they send you 25 text messages. No, unless you are expecting the email from the church treasurer with the exact dollar amount of your 29.74 % raise so you can buy that new car (this is science fiction here), there is nothing in that email box that can’t wait until tomorrow morning.

Most of the time it won’t matter. Nine times out of ten, there’s nothing significant there.

But that ONE time you get the message from the critic, it will absolutely ruin your day. It will send you into a tailspin. It will consume your thoughts. It will steal your joy and your Sabbath and the relationships that really matter, the ones that too often get neglected the other six days. Losing today will ruin your week, and ruining your week will ruin your month. Do it often enough, and it will ruin your year. Do it habitually, and it will ruin your life.

So let it ruin tomorrow, when you are working, instead of today, when you are supposed to be resting and rejuvenating your soul.

That’s what the Sabbath means. To trust God enough for tomorrow that you don’t have to worry about anything today. Didn’t Jesus says tomorrow has enough trouble of its own?

It’s your day off. Off means off. The email will be there tomorrow.

Leave it there where it belongs, and enjoy your day.

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