In the Fall of 2021, Angie and I began thinking about taking a Sabbatical. To be honest, the concept always frightened me. There were three main reasons why:
What would people think? I hate to admit this, but this was a biggie. For most of my life, I have heard people who are not in full-time ministry make comments about people in my profession being lazy, incompetent, naive, and entitled. While I've never heard these comments about me personally, the remarks about "others" created a drive in me to not be like the "others." While not all bad, these perceptions have shaped how I perform on a daily basis. Perform is an interesting word choice... huh? I certainly don't live my life just to please other people, but I must admit that deep inside, other's opinions of me do matter. My fear was that in taking a Sabbatical, I might confirm the thoughts of the "others", that I simply couldn't handle a real job and had to "milk" the benefits of my profession. After all, most of the people that are not in full-time ministry never get to take a Sabbatical. Well, that's not entirely true... while Sabbaticals used to be left to just a few professions, companies such as Intel, Microsoft, American Express, Morgan Stanley, Charles Schwab, Google, Quick Trip and even McDonalds are now offering employees the option for Sabbatical and the list is growing according to "77 Companies That Offer Sabbaticals-- And Why Every Company Should." Perhaps you could be next.
What will I learn about myself? Now this seems like a silly concern right? Unless I learn how much weight my job has on my self-worth. I think you can read between the lines here. I know that my true worth does not come from my job or what I accomplish but as Brennan Manning so eloquently states in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, "My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn or deserve it." My head knows the right answer, but what if I discover during an extended time away from my job that my heart believes something different? Do I really want to uncover such a great chasm? Wait, isn't this the point of a spiritual Sabbatical? To uncover blind spots, find inconsistencies, discover brokenness, and wrestle with deep personal faith issues is the painful beginning. I'm a firm believer in, "if its not broke, dont fix it." I don't feel broke, so why should I go wading around in the muddy water of my soul? I know, Paul tells us in Romans 5:20 that "where sin increased, grace increased all the more." So while I know that His grace is sufficient for whatever I may learn about myself, the pain of discovery is no fun.
What if I don't learn anything? This question sort of relates to my first concern but it goes deeper. Most of the people I know who have taken Sabbaticals have great stories to tell. Stories of discovering a deeper relationship and intimacy with God, new direction for ministry, and profound spiritual truths seems to be the reports I hear. What if I hear nothing? What if nothing changes? I'm convinced that I put unreal expectations on myself and dread the question from co-workers, Board members, donors and church leaders, "How was it? What did God say to you?" What if I don't have an answer for that? Not because I didn't try, but because we can't control when God speaks. What if there is no new vision or direction for the team I lead? Will they be disappointed? Will they think I wasted the time? Will they wonder if I did it right? See, I told you it was related to the first one. But as I said, it goes deeper. The absence of God's voice and intimacy during this season would surely weaken my faith, cause me to doubt, and leave me feeling abandoned. I know this seems crazy, as I feel like God speaks with me regularly, He comforts me daily, He leads me as I lead others. Why would I worry that He would abandon me in this season of focus? Why is it that when I try to remember all of the answered prayers of my past, it is easier to remember the unanswered ones?
So there you go. These are my biggest concerns. But, since I am not driven by fear and I am willing to take risks, on June 1, 2022 we started a three month Sabbatical. We have a Sabbatical plan and a schedule for planned retreat, isolation, books to read, questions that need answers and plenty of time for rest.
Over the next several weeks we plan to retreat to the mountains in northern Arizona, Utah and Colorado. Our days will be filled with camping, morning hikes, afternoon hammock reading/sleeping, praying and experiencing God's creation. In my opinion, there is no better place to meet with God than while He displays His glory through His creation.