What I Did on Sabbatical

During this last week of my 13 week Sabbatical, it’s time to wrap it up and get ready to return to the regular work of congregational life. The sabbatical was actually something that I got very stressed about as I was preparing for it and imagining how it would go, but now that I’m done I am so grateful for this time that you all gifted me with.

First, the reasons why I felt stress before the sabbatical are a big part of the personal and spiritual development that the sabbatical time gave me. Was I worried about leaving you all with coverage in my absence? Yes, but I also knew that Bonnie and the Family Ministry Team and the Teaching Teams would be fine. No, my real stress was that I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during that much time. I was afraid that in the absence of a schedule and a list of things that Must Be Done By This Deadline, I wouldn’t even know who I was – because schedules and To Do Lists are anchors, and they are also distractions.

I had an idea that I would fill this time and “get a lot done”. I did get some good things done (my post on Credentialing will be up next week), but that was not the take-away from my sabbatical time. I actually ended up leaning in to the unscheduled time, and found that I could embrace being a Human Being instead of a Human Doing. This quote from the book The Dance by Oriah nicely captures the idea:

When we avoid the emptiness, when we fill the stillness with too much doing, we are trying to outrun our, sometimes unconscious, conviction that who we are will never be enough. The things we try to hang on to – our work, our relationships, our reputation and perspective – are the things we believe will make us worthy of life and love … If we can simply be with the fear that we are not enough, and with the vastness of what we do not know, we discover an emptiness that is not our failure but is the very source of the fullness of who and what we are.

Sabbaticals are interpreted in different ways, with probably a unique idea of how that time should be spent in the mind of each person who is blessed with the opportunity. But I think it is very telling that the word sabbatical has the same root as the word Sabbath. In his book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the Sabbath practice as “building a palace in time”. It elevates to a conscious level the realization that we are temporally bound creatures, or that we exist in the flow of time. In fact, as one time management book that I read once pointed out, how you spend your time is how you spend your life. We say “the time got away from me”, but what if we said “my life got away from me”?

The great gift that I found through taking a Sabbatical was that I was reminded that this is the only time I will ever have to live this one life that I have been blessed with. I do not have to earn the gift of life, or prove myself worthy of it, before I am allowed to enjoy it. While the many things that I do are often worthy and wonderful, they cannot define me. The Sabbatical time let me go deep with this idea, struggle with it a bit, and ultimately find my spiritual development greater because of the time.

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