In a few weeks I will begin my three-month Sabbatical – my extended Sabbath. Sabbath is time and space dedicated to being instead of doing. At LNPC we talk about Sabbath as stepping outside of all the things that layer on and around us, so that we can remember whose we really are and observe who we truly are. And God declared it necessary, because without Sabbath we slip into a mindset of slavery, and a relentless pace of fractured and scattered half-living, instead of a cohesive existence of wholeness and fullness, rooted and grounded in love. But like the Israelites released from Egypt, when faced with freedom, it makes us very nervous.
OK, I’ll own it: it makes me very nervous.
I love being a pastor. I love my job. It is deeply integrated into who I am and I have great joy in fulfilling my role alongside and with my congregation. I am comfortable in my routines, responsibilities and I can see how I often measure how successful my days and weeks are by how much I’ve done, produced, or contributed, how many tasks are checked off my list. Take those things away, and what might I find?
If I am too much in silence, what loud things might come screaming out of me?
If I have too much time to rest or play, too much space to think and dream, what will I find out about who I really am?
What will God and I have to say to each other when we’re not talking shop?
What might happen in stopping…
I’ve stopped in an extended way once before. When Andy and I traveled around the world for six months in 2000, we put our lives and student loans on hold, gave up our apartment, put everything we owned in storage, and stepped off the grid (sort of), to travel. The first two weeks were vacationing and then we spent three months in Australia, living in a small flat on a university campus while Andy worked on his ThM from 9-5 each weekday and I did…well…nothing. I went from a lifestyle of constant studying, working, learning, doing, to having exactly two standing appointments a week: one with a professor to discuss a book I was reading, and one with his brilliant wife for an agendaless cup of coffee. I knew nobody else in the city. I had no other obligations, expectations or responsibilities. I was free to explore
and wander. To visit the outdoor market and downtown, to sit in the park and read, sit in a coffee shop and journal. But at first this freedom made me crazy.
Looking back, here is what I observe about my first time of extended stopping, my accidental Sabbath:
Phase one: Detox.
For three weeks I was antsy, itchy, irritable. My freedom felt terrible; I was lonely and bored and overwhelmed. I craved structure and duty. I had trouble sleeping and woke early, sure there was something I should be doing, wracked with guilt. I obsessed over whether I had really earned this and was frantic to have something to show for it. I found books to read, made up papers to write, sought out preaching gigs and emailed in the library as much as I could. I could almost feel the adrenaline addiction rev to a frantic pace and then gradually begin to abate.
Phase two: Release.
Inside of just over a year, I had gotten married, finished seminary, been through the divorce of both my own parents and my husband’s parents, said goodbye to my classmates and friends, coworkers, apartment, and the life I had lived for three years, given up my home and set out with my husband on a journey around the world. And suddenly I felt it. All of it. All the confusion, pain, loss, exhaustion and exhilaration from the past year of my life began coming up and bubbling over. I started journaling frantically every day in the coffee shop on the corner, going for long runs and longer walks, talking out loud to God in the city park like a crazy person. I cried a lot and slept a lot and kept my two appointments a week.
Phase three: Waking up.
And then I started sleeping deeply, and tasting my food, and noticing birds and insects and flowers and people. I felt light and strong and adventurous and curious. I would go to the Queen Victoria Market twice a week and walk through the stalls and stalls of fresh vegetables, fruit and meats and dream about how I could combine them in our little kitchen with limited spices. I would ride the tram downtown, sit at an outdoor café, and come home with my produce in a bag and a loaf of French bread sticking out the top and a bunch of fresh flowers in my lap. I visited bookstores and art galleries and strolled along the river. I sat in on a two week class of pastors meeting to talk about authentic Australian Christianity, power structures, identity and faith and found myself fascinated and filled by the freedom to ask these questions as an outsider, to see myself and my own context anew and through different eyes. I laughed a lot, took a lot of photos, got to know interesting people and journaled more.
The rest of our trip around the world I felt present, conscious, alive. I learned more in those six months than I ever could have imagined and had experiences that shaped me forever.
Based on my mixture of anticipation and terror, fatigue and excitement, I suspect I will go through similar phases in this extended Sabbath, which may look like this:
Detox: Adrenaline withdrawal from my multi-tasking, plugged in, juggling life is sure to kick off this sabbatical. I have gotten really good at doing lots of things almost all the time, and the momentum builds up. Coming to a screeching halt feels scary, even dangerous. I already feel the demons hovering, ready to descend: What if I waste it? What if I haven’t earned it? What if I squander this gift? What would make this time the most worthwhile (e.g., what should I be doing/producing)?
Release: What have I been avoiding facing? What do I need to grieve? To celebrate? To pay attention to? To let go of? To embrace? Where will vulnerability hit me? And how in the world will I survive missing out on all the fun going on at LNPC without me?!?
Awake: (I am excited for this part). What will I learn? What will I notice? What changes will occur in me? What integrations and invitations will I sense? I know gratitude is a big part, and simplicity, and presence, and I crave being fully present.
How will I spend my Sabbatical Time?
I've dreamed up some plans for stopping, which include:
- seeking to limit, as much as I can each day, multitasking. focusing on being fully present in each moment
- an epic scenic family road trip
- meeting regularly with a spiritual director
- reading novels
- reading theology
- playing with my children
- playing with my husband
- a pottery class, or a mosaic class, or, or…
- getting together with mom friends and lifelong friends
- writing, and meeting with people who write to talk about writing
- laying in my hammock
- gardening a little, baking a little, some yoga, some walking…
But I am trying to hold all of this loosely, in the spirit of Sabbath – with freedom, without obligation.
I keep reminding myself that even if all my best laid plans fall through, God will meet me in this time set apart. And I know part of it will be hard and uncomfortable, and part of it will be glorious. And I know I will return changed and opened up to meet God, and my congregation, more fully and wholly.
So I am a little nervous, this is true.
But mostly I feel awe and wonder, and grateful anticipation.
What do you have up your sleeve, God?
Sabbatical, here I come!
One month away.
The countdown has begun...
This article (expanded) - and several others, appear in the "Current Word", LNPC Newsletter - Sabbatical Edition. (You should read them - super smart and insightful people are part of our quirky little crew at LNPC, and the Sabbatical Task Force in particular!) I am so thankful for my congregation, and their breathtaking support of me and preparation for a sabbatical for the whole congregation during this time. The anticipation and synergy is infectious!