Our summer sabbatical has come to a close. I am extremely grateful to benefit from a gift given to Glenn from our church. Glenn has been a pastor at New Life Church for sixteen years and every seven years, all full-time staff members are given a sabbatical. Ours has been around six weeks. Pastors take sabbaticals for various reasons; for New Life, this gift is given to allow those in full-time pastoral ministry from our church to have an extended sabbath.
Here are a few sabbatical reflections from Glenn…
“Sabbath is a time to stop, to rest, to delight, to play, and to be renewed by the Creator and Sustainer of all things. When we set our plans for my pastoral sabbatical, Holly and I wrote out three key themes, each becoming a banner under which we could design travel, activities, and rhythms. These themes were rest, recreation, and renewal. We mapped out the six-week sabbatical in three successive phases. Of course, since we have four children under the age of 12, these lines blurred a little, and we needed to include more recreation into each day in order to keep them occupied and us sane. But to keep the theme of rest—true soul rest—going throughout the sabbatical, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone and iPad, deleted my work email from my phone and iPad…and used a completely different not-so-smart phone for much of sabbatical The freedom and lightness of being that I experienced was remarkable.”
I decided to go off all social media as well. I had been off for four years when my kids were very young, but have been back on for the last few years. There are elements of it I enjoy, but I felt quite free not feeling the pull to post or check! That being said, I’m ready to engage in it a bit now!
In planning our sabbatical, it was a shared goal to make travel decisions from a prayerful and thoughtful place with our themes as the priority, not vice versa. This wasn’t just a large chunk of time to plan vacations we wouldn’t normally have time to take. Our hope was that each phase of the six week period would have elements of rest, recreation, and renewal. I’m happy to report that we were able to achieve much of what we hoped for in this time. As Glenn mentioned, it certainly wasn’t always easy as much of our time was spent with our four children. We had many quotidian days spent cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and separating fighting kids. But most days we were able to take some time for listening prayer, journaling, reading for delight, going on unhurried walks, having meaningful conversation, and taking fun excursions with our kids.
A few highlights…
Glenn and I began our rest phase by spending five glorious days together on a beach. The majority of every day was spent listening to the sound of the rippling waves on the shore, staring at the sight of the gorgeous aqua marine sea crashing on the sandy shore, and reading in between. Not too shabby!
I started the Pulitzer Prize winning book, All the Light We Cannot See, back in the Spring but really dug into on this trip. I’m not generally a fan of modern fiction but Doerr writes in an absolutely beautiful way, drawing you into a human story while pointing you to deep and meaningful themes such as fate and free will. I love it when a well written novel pursued for pure delight causes me to think and emotionally process on a deeper level. I was so immersed near the end, I was holding in my tears on the flight home! Read it; you won’t regret it.
We also read a marriage book, How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich. I’m not sure if this was the best choice for this trip as it evoked some difficult conversations. But overall, talking about how our attachment to our parents affected our ability to give and receive comfort has been extremely beneficial to the health of our marriage.
Next, we headed into the recreation phase of our trip by heading out on a two week road trip through the Midwest with our whole family. We have had many rough road trips with tinies, but now that our youngest is four, our car ride was, somewhat peaceful mainly thanks to the entertainment of great audio books! We thoroughly enjoyed this dramatized version of The Hobbit. To those who are are parents of tinies….you will get there!
We made our way through the Black Hills in South Dakota, then to my family farm in Iowa, a quick weekend stop in Kansas, and then back home to Colorado. A highlight on our drive through the plains and hills of the Midwest was listening to an audio book, Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.
He sums his book up by saying, “The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.” Glenn and I spent much time talking through all the areas of our lives and used essentialism as our grid. We continually asked ourselves the question, “If I wasn’t already doing this, would I start it again?”
Soon enough we were driving down the familiar gravel road to my childhood home in Iowa. My parents’ farm is a favorite destination for all our kids -lots of cuddly kittens to hold, a riding lawn mower to drive, and a kayak to paddle in the small man-made lake a mile down the road. I had the opportunity to make some special memories with both my parents by interviewing them with a small microphone I attached to my phone. Gotta love modern technology. I asked them questions about their family heritage and recorded their endearing stories. I hope this will be a gift to our family for many generations to come. I wanted for my kids to get a sense of my family’s land and what ‘home’ was like for me growing up. My parents took us on a driving trip to see all their farmland and old farmsteads, and along the way we happened upon my mom’s old, dilapidated country school. What a treat for my kids to hear so much history from their grandparents.
By this point in sabbatical, I’d hardly seen anyone besides my immediate family. No social media of any kind, no emails needing an imminent reply. Nothing needing my immediate attention or meetings to attend. I started to feel a bit agitated, needing something to do something to validate my existence. Maybe this was the place I was supposed to come to – as uncomfortable as it was. It had been wonderful to rest, delight, and enjoy life with my family for a few weeks, but now shouldn’t I be getting something more accomplished? I reminded myself I stop because I’m not needed for God to continue His work. I can ‘be’; He has things under control. A day’s work will never be done. He can continue to bring His kingdom about in His world when I am at rest. I can rest in the knowledge and understanding that I am His, in work and in Sabbath rest.
Eugene Peterson says,
“Sabbath is the time set aside to do nothing so that we can receive everything, to set aside our anxious attempts to make ourselves useful, to set aside our tense restlessness, to set aside our media-satiated boredom. Sabbath is the time to receive silence and let it deepen into gratitude, to receive quiet into which forgotten faces and voices unobtrusively make themselves present, to receive the days of the just completed week and absorb the wonder and miracle still reverberating from each one, to receive our Lord’s amazing grace.”
We were soon home again and headed to the mountains, to stay in our generous friends’ home. Our time there involved a somewhat steady daily rhythm and one where I picked up a theology book, Simply Good News by N.T. Wright. Wright’s goal is to help us see how the gospel is truly ‘good news’ and how it applies to us today. Understanding that we as God’s people are already living in the kingdom of God, and that Jesus is already reigning as king now is hugely transformative in how I view my life and actions here on Earth.
As I reflect on our time away, I sense this is a season to see my relationship with our living God as central and continue to remind myself of my identity as a child of God. I’m drawn to focus on a handful of things and desire to do them well. I’m hopeful, personally and as a family, that we’ll be more consistent in rhythms of silence, contemplation, and my rule of life involving a weekly sabbath.
It may not always be green pastures and quiet waters, but we are trusting the Lord to be with us on the road.