For the past three years, every time I turned around, it seemed someone was mentioning taking a sabbatical to me. At a leadership dinner sitting next to a total stranger, a distinguished female minister employed by one of the nation's largest churches said, "I hear the word 'sabbatical' for you.” That was pretty much the extent of our conversation other than a few polite exchanges.
I kept hearing stories that year of numerous ministerial leaders, even friends and acquaintances, who were having physical breakdowns and hospital stays as a result of exhaustion. These were strong leaders with solid faith walks but overworked bodies and emotions. I kept thinking, "Not us. We are doing fine."
At my annual doctor's visit, I was asked, "Are you under tremendous stress?"
"No, I'm fine," I answered.
"Your cortisol levels tell a different story," he politely said. "What do you do?"
"Uh...I'm a minister. We have a business. I have five adult children and many grandchildren, a daily television program and another weekly one. Oh, and I travel and speak often in varying time zones. But I love what I do!" I said with conviction.
He looked at me like I was from outer space and said, "Have you ever heard of a sabbatical?"
That word, again!
Finally, I consented that since we were consistently working 70 hours a week, we should probably plan a month of 'sabbatical.' But three years rushed by, and I just couldn't seem to find the time! I thought we would do it during our twentieth year of pastoral ministry, but there no time. We'll get it in next year...or maybe the next, I thought. We even put it on the calendar, twice, and then slowly chiseled it away until it was removed completely.
This year, we finally did it, but not without a struggle to actually allow it to happen.
I finally took a sabbatical, and can now reflect on what transpired.
I spent the first days getting ready for our children to visit with the grandbabies. I busied myself with a whir or activity and preparations and reconnecting to them once they arrived. Now mind you, that's not an easy task to connect to everyone all at the same time when there's almost 20 folks, but I needed my family and the connections helped me get new perspective. I realized again for the hundredth time that family is the priority. I typically play family tour guide, and as fast as the family came, they were gone again.
Next, I worked on cleaning and then trying to think of someone else we could "bless" that could join our solitude.
I repeatedly tried to fill the solitude with busyness.
Taking a sabbatical has been a needed challenge for me! I kept trying to turn it into work, projects, and activity. All proof that I needed a sabbatical!
We even tried to go home early because we felt a weight of responsibility there.
How could we leave our post for almost four weeks?! How do leaders do this?
We attempted to go home early but the flight got cancelled because of weather at the last minute requiring us to let someone else fill in for us. I kept thinking we needed to get back and DO what we were supposed to be doing!
But God has kept me away long enough to finally surrender my will—to be still and KNOW that HE is God, not me trying to be—while secretly resenting the pressure I put on myself.
I learned to bike the island, prayed, wrote, and struggled. I struggled to let myself rest. I struggled to give myself permission to just exist and not be pulling off some monumental project. Maybe this is what the Israelites got into trouble for because they couldn't enter into rest?
The rest of faith—totally trusting God. I've never worked so hard to try to rest!
It finally hit me when I was crawling around the bottom of the ocean floor donning goggles looking for hidden treasure in the sand. The waves were tossing me around, and I lost all sense of time. It was almost dusk, and I was bottom side up scurrying around looking at seashells slipping through my fingers as I moved with the ocean. I finally became a carefree little girl for a moment with a loving daddy.
Getting back to my cottage, I looked at my imperfect sea hair matted and tossed in sand and my unmade face kissed by the sun. I looked at myself in the mirror and laughed at the reflection of an older but happier little girl. The next day I rode my bike like a kid, humming away and even ringing the bike's little bell.
Then, it was time to go home.
We must work, but we must also rest. God rested after He finished creation. Hebrews 4:12 says, "There is therefore now a Sabbath rest for the people of God."
We enter that rest spiritually by faith, but our soul and body must have rest from labor at times too. I can't say what we may have averted by taking a rest, but I know that the times I have missed God were more often than not when I have become too busy, blinded, then burdened into unbelief.
Perhaps you need to rest long enough to hear that childlike voice of faith again and recover your soul.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. - Matthew 11:28-30