Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


A Different Kind of Lenten Journey

I thought I knew what my Lenten journey was going to look like this year—but I was mistaken.

I thought I was so busy and distracted that, as I wrote last week, my Lenten discipline was to simply rest in God’s presence. I thought that I needed to find balance in work and rest, focus and release.

It would appear that God thought differently. One week into Lent, I received notice from the State of New Mexico that we were being audited for Gross Receipts Tax for the year 2014. New Mexico is one of the few states that taxes services, and the long and the short of it is that Henry and I both have to prove that the significant bulk of our income was either from clergy services or delivered to out-of-state clients, both of which are exempt from those taxes.

It’s been—pardon the phrase—a pain in the butt to prove this. I have not before been subjected to such an outright adversarial attitude, where someone is determined to prove that I am doing something wrong. It amazes me that a 1099 from a client doesn’t prove that the money came from out of state. It amazes me that a client’s website, clearly stating that they are out of state, isn’t proof enough. I’m amazed that…well, I really shouldn’t keep going down that road. I’ve lost a lot of sleep the past few weeks, being amazed at the hoops I’m having to jump through to prove that these clients are, indeed, out of state.

It makes me angry—and anger is, of course, what’s driving so much in this country right now. The adversarial attitude that is endemic to our government—clearly, at all levels—is part of what is tearing this country apart, I believe. Which is part of why I’ve been so upset in being forced to deal with it on a personal level, when I have studiously avoided becoming engaged with it on the national level, knowing how much it increases my stress and, I fear, makes me less able to be a positive, supportive force for good in the midst of this divisive, combative culture.

But somehow, for some reason that I do not yet understand, I am being forced into it anyway. Far too early yesterday morning, I was wrestling with “Why haven’t I been able to write this Sunday’s blog yet?” My mind kept returning to this audit, but I really didn’t want to write about it until I could present it as a completed package, all wrapped up and pretty, with the lessons learned and able to be shared. I kept striving to turn toward something else, and God kept pulling me back.

Suddenly, these words of Jesus came to my mind: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

So I got up and wrote. This is not the pretty-package version. It’s the “struggling in the midst of it all” version. It’s the “not sure how this will end, but doing my best, hour by hour” version. It is, frankly, where most of us live, most of the time. It takes a while to get to the point of learning the lessons. It takes time, and distance, to discern the silver linings in the clouds that block the sun in our lives.

So here I am, stressed and struggling—and angry about having to be here. I don’t know why I need to write this today, but I’m trusting God. Perhaps some of you who read this might need to feel accompanied in your own struggles. Perhaps you need to know that you’re not the only one facing an unsought, undesired adversarial situation.

WatchingwithJesusShall we hang in there, together, one hour at a time? Shall we join Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane?


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Reconnecting with Joy and Laughter

Last weekend I led a pair of workshops for a women’s retreat at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson. The keynote speaker, Lesley Abrams, is both a clergywoman and a comedienne, and she certainly had us laughing. She also had us focused on reconnecting with joy, and that lightheartedness has stayed with me over the week.

img_3421The weather has also cooled off enough that Henry and I have started walking again in the mornings. Some of the things that have reconnected me with joy and laughter this week are the various ways our neighborhood families are decorating their houses and yards for Halloween. This is my favorite so far, being more creative than most. It’s also a reminder to me that laughter can erupt out of the very earth if we will just bend our minds in that direction….

I tend to be a pretty serious person. As this blog aptly illustrates, I think deeply and widely, focus on making spiritual connections, and generally ponder the weighty matters related to finding meaning in life. And—this week I’m being reminded of the need for balance in my life: for laughter, joy, dance, and beauty.

One of the places I’m finding beauty right now is not in autumn leaves (the only plant around here that seems to put on a bit of autumn color is the ocotillo, whose leaves turn yellow and drop off when the weather dries out). Instead, the desert is again—or still—in bloom. I’ve not previously thought about autumn as the season for blossoms, but that’s another way that life is different in the Sonoran Desert. (If you want to see photos of the various blooms I’m encountering this week, I invite you to follow my Instagram feed, or catch them on Facebook.)

If you are also one of those people who tends to think deeply and seriously, I invite you to seek lightheartedness this week. All the children out trick-or-treating tomorrow provide a great opportunity (if you live in the US) to reconnect with the lighthearted joy of young children. Fall festivals and carnivals provide other opportunities for joy and laughter. And if you tend toward lightheartedness naturally, thank you for providing those opportunities for people like me to lighten up! May my other posts help you find some serious balance in your daily life.


On Pinching Time Instead of Pennies

This past week I’ve struggled in various ways with how I spend my time. I’ve had a lot of client work lately, which is both a blessing and a challenge. It’s left me with a lot less time and energy to work on my personal goals for my current and future ministries.

I read once in a freelancing blog that scientists have discovered we are only at the “top of our game” for about four or five hours a day. That’s the peak time and energy that we have to devote to creative or detailed projects, where we need to pay particular and careful attention. When it comes to an eight (or nine, or ten) hour workday, chances are that the rest of the time is spent in meetings, on the phone, answering emails, and other types of less-focused activities. Now, we can sometimes push that focused time to eight hours a day when we’re working to meet a deadline, but we pay for it, energy-wise, later on.

In this season when I’m needing to balance personal work for my spiritually directed goals with work for my current editing clients, I’m faced with the fact that I just don’t have enough of that focused energy to give. For a few weeks, following the post where I celebrated the steps I had taken toward my personal goals, I found myself with a lot of energy to move those goals forward. I’d go back into my office in the evening (one definite advantage of a twenty-foot commute!) and dive into work on my SMART goals. I’d finish my load of client work and still be able to give focused attention to the projects I wanted to pursue.

But somewhere along the line, things began to shift. I emptied the energy well, and didn’t refill it. I found myself increasingly exhausted, and not able to focus or make progress if I went back into my office in the evening. After a certain period, I even found myself unable to concentrate during the day. I struggled with this, talked with my spiritual director, took it to prayer…and spent a lot of time feeling frustrated, lost, scattered, and overwhelmed.

And then a metaphor caught my attention. We are in the process of probably installing solar panels on the roof of our home. A site visit this week—to ascertain the capacity of our home and roof to handle the panels and assorted infrastructure—led to a conversation with Henry about the costs and benefits, and I found myself thinking about pinching pennies. As I climbed into bed that night, the concept of pinching time flitted through my head.IMG_2905

Pinching pennies is usually about saving money, or making our hard-earned cash work hard for us. I found myself wondering about what it might mean to pinch time. Certainly we can hoard time and waste time, just as we do money. I can waste time just fine if I’m not careful, posting on Instagram or Facebook and then following various pictures and posts down the proverbial rabbit hole. But I can also waste time by looking at a spiritual website (as I determine how I want—or don’t want—my own website to appear) and then follow their various links and posts and so on…until once again I’ve traveled far from my agenda. Theoretically it’s all related to my SMART goals and my need to know what other spiritual directors are doing online…but it’s not helping me to accomplish my tasks for the day.

So what might it mean for me to pinch time—and is that even a wise idea? First of all, my spiritual director and I agreed that it’s time to evaluate again all the things I’m wanting to do, and ascertain which ones are important and which must be released. I’ve got two potential situations in the next year where possible leadership or training commitments run smack-dab up against each other. I might well have to choose one or the other—or ask if there is any leniency on arrival or departure times—instead of saying I can do it all and booking a red-eye flight across the country.

But it’s also really difficult to say “no,” especially when everything has the potential to grow my spiritual ministry—and the problem in that sentence is with the word “everything.” I can’t do it all—can’t invest my time in it all—just like I can’t invest my money in everything. So it’s time to step back, take time (or make time!) to carefully assess the various agendas and goals in which I am investing my time. I must prayerfully ask for guidance about what is truly important—and then take time (make time!) to listen for some answers.

This is not easy work. Our culture bombards us with things we “should” be doing to further our goals, make more money, and “spend” our time. So in the coming days, I will be pinching my time—and paradoxically spending some of it in order to learn better how to most efficiently spend my time in the future.

How do you waste or hoard time? Have you ever taken your use of time to God in prayer? What might it look like for you to assess your ability to efficiently spend, or pinch, time?


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Celebrating Eastertide

Is Easter still on your minds these days? We are still in Eastertide but, like with Christmas, I sense that most people celebrate the day itself and then move on, forgetting that Easter is not just a day, but also a season.

The season of Eastertide is fifty days, longer than Lent, and yet it tends to get less attention than Lent. It seems that we are better at the celebration of discipline than we are at the discipline of celebration.

DSC_0786 swing

Image taken at Desert Harbor (

This year I am doing my best to celebrate Eastertide by regaining balance in my life. I overworked myself in Lent, and for months prior to that, so it seems fitting, and health-giving, to celebrate Easter by resurrecting balance. Giving myself permission to relax, and breathe, and celebrate each day of my life, seems a fitting way to acknowledge the gift of life that comes with resurrection.

What might it mean to intentionally celebrate the rest of Eastertide? We have almost a month left, as Pentecost (the end of Eastertide) isn’t until June 8 this year. How might you continue to live an Easter life in the days ahead?


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Power Sabbath?

This past week I gave a pair of talks on Sabbath to a group of clergy. Because of the unpredictability of pastoral needs, plus the fact that Sunday is a work day, clergy often find it difficult to take a day of rest and rejuvenation each week. They can plan a certain day off, but often pastoral emergencies, funerals and parish needs will interrupt, and clergy find themselves facing another week without any time to reconnect with the God they have sworn to serve.

I’ve discovered that there are certain similarities between the lives of clergy and the lives of freelancers who are working to get their businesses up and running. I find it difficult to say no to any job because I am well aware of the ebb and flow of freelancing work. I find myself wanting to build up as many clients as possible, so that the work is steady—even if sometimes that means it is overwhelming. Between my spiritual and my editing and writing work, I cannot recall a day when I did not do something for one “job” or the other.

This is not conducive to a balanced life—but unfortunately it is the norm in our culture. We have become human doings instead of human beings. We are a long way from the days when my paternal granddad insisted on a work-free Sunday, taking his family for drives and picnics in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. He was a very strict Presbyterian and I imagine that his Sabbath observance often arose from a legalistic approach to the Gospel, but I feel the need to mimic the spirit behind his taking a day off, even if I don’t make the time to head out on a picnic every Sunday.

Sunday is a work day at our house—especially today, as Holy Trinity is having a work day to finish preparing our new retreat center for its first group of guests this week. I didn’t have time yesterday to take a full day off—but I did make time to pray, and when my prayer time was officially over, I found I could not move from the chair. My body—and spirit—craved more. And so I sat, and dozed, for another half hour or so. When I was conscious I silently invited God to be with me. Eventually I found my body willing to move again, and the idea for this blog in my head, so I returned to the computer, refreshed and ready for at least a little more work.

DSC_6968 looking backI began my first presentation to the clergy last week with a 4-minute guided meditation which took them to a place that was sacred to them, and invited them into a conversation with Jesus, then an opportunity to just sit with him in silence and reflection. I then told them that, just as many in our culture now take Power Naps, they had just experienced a Power Sabbath. It’s a first step toward regaining that critical balance of action and contemplation, work and stillness, in a culture that’s become obsessed with activity and accomplishment.

When was the last time you took an entire day off from “work,” however you need to define that term? How might you seek to regain some sense of Sabbath in your life?