Lessons from a Sabbatical

How will you be different when you go back?

This question from my spiritual director mirrored Jesus’ question in John 5 that stopped me in my tracks early on in July –  ‘Do you want to get well?’ and the implication that this meant radical change.

 

How will you be different when you go back? It wasn’t a question I’d really considered beforehand – I was just excited about a rest!

Having a sabbatical was about more than just rest and time to read leadership books and have a renewed vision for leadership.

 

In planning the sabbatical I’m grateful (to our board for giving me one!) for some wise counsel from friends who asked how it could be good for me and our young family, who suggested that study is not perhaps rest and should be a part of everyday work, and for advice to take time practicing skills that are not part of everyday work. As a result I enjoyed some great cooking and gardening classes.

Some of the things I enjoyed most on sabbatical were having space, a slower pace of life, being outside most of the time and also being more active. Significant as well was the time spent with family. We had an amazing family holiday getting the ferry to France – the first time I’ve gone on holiday not tired in a long time. I read less than I had planned. I was stiller than I’ve been for a long time.

 

For me the sabbatical gave the time and the space to go on a deep journey- into understanding more who I am and what has shaped me and what drives me – in healthy and unhealthy ways.

The combination of spiritual direction, counselling and retreat days enabled some deep reflection and a lot of healing.

I sat with loss and disappointment (that was a fun time!), I journaled about anger, I joined the dots on lots of experiences that shaped me. I brought shame and disappointment into the open and said – God here you are. It wasn’t resolved but I’ve experienced the freedom of voicing it and putting it out there. 

I’m learning to live more in mystery and ambiguity. Not everything can be ‘fixed’ or explained. God is not a scientific rationalist. God is order and God is mystery. And He is good.

 

Brene Brown says who you are is how you lead.

Over the years what I do has become a significant part of who I am. Some of that is normal.

When we work we are most god-like, which means that it is in our work that it is easier to develop god-pretensions. Un-sabbathed, our work becomes the entire context in which we define our lives. We lose God-consciousness, God-awareness, sightings of resurrection. We lose the capacity to sing “this is my fathers world” and end up chirping little self-centred ditties about what we are doing and feeling. –Eugene Peterson

 

So for 10 weeks that was stripped back. And it was good.

I also spent the sabbatical in the company of Ruth Haley Barton’s book on retreat which begins with a quote from Wayne Mueller “Because we do not rest we lose our way”.

She defines retreat as “coming home to ourselves in God’s presence and resting there”.

This call to be still – literally let go my grip and know – tangibly experience that God is God is difficult in the frenzied busyness of life. And one I am grateful to this sabbatical for allowing me to experience in a powerful way.

The call to leadership and  mission is also a call to discernment – to step back and to discern what God is doing.

Ruth Haley Barton describes discernment as “an increasing capacity to recognise and respond to the presence and activity of God – both in the ordinary moments of our lives and in the decisions we make.”

To discern where God is at work and what God is calling us to needs capacity -we can’t do it when we are running at full tilt not stopping. It needs space. And time. To still all the voices, to turn off phones and email to listen to the voice of the God of mission who is calling us to partner with Him in what he is doing.

I need to carve out space to create some of that capacity – so one concrete difference as I’ve come back is that I’m taking a retreat day each month, and working at making space part of the DNA in our team. 

“The purpose of retreat is to become more deeply grounded in God as the ultimate orientating reality of our lives and to return to the life God has given us with renewed strength, vitality and clarity about who we are called to be in God for the world.” -Ruth Haley Barton

 “Sabbath is not primarily about us or how it benefits us; it is about God, and how God forms us. It is not, in the first place, about what we do or don’t do; it is about God – completing and resting and blessing and sanctifying. These are all things that we don’t know much about……But it does mean stopping and being quiet long enough to see – open-mouthed – with wonder – resurrection wonder…..we cultivate the “fear of the Lord”. Our souls are formed by what we cannot work up or take charge of. We respond and enter into what the resurrection of Jesus continues to do.” –Eugene Peterson

Written by Sam Moore