The last five years have been rough for me. It started out with the death of my mom. Then came the death of my dad a little less than two years later. I was finishing up seminary, was involved in a difficult situation in my church, and was trying to transfer my credentials into a different denomination. I was diagnosed with a weak heart and I could feel my anxiety and stress ever building within me. Thankfully, the church that I serve saw fit to extend me a sabbatical, three months away from work with the goal and intention that I rest, recharge, and study.
If you had asked me ten years ago about a sabbatical, I may have been able to tell you what it was, but it never occurred to me that I actually might have one someday. My father was a pastor for more than forty years and never took a sabbatical. While he worked towards and received his doctorate degree during that time, he never had that much consecutive time off. As he reached the end of his career as a pastor and as he reached the end of his life, I think the lack of some kind of sabbatical may have been detrimental to his health.
I was and am so incredibly grateful to my church for this opportunity. To whom much is given, much is required, and so I wanted to make sure that I was making the most of this time. I put together a plan, found an area of study that I could dive into during the time, planned some travel, and planned time with my family. Although it felt like a tall order to accomplish a lot in this period of time, I felt like I could do it.
Since I am used to sitting in front of a computer and typing a mile a minute, I knew that one of the things that I needed to do during my sabbatical was slow down. I wanted to be intentional about slowing down and that kind of intentionality can be somewhat painful. So, I went to the store and found a journal, you know, one of the ones that has paper and that you actually have to use a pencil, pen, or other writing utensil. I thought to myself, “Here goes nothing!”
The first few weeks were a little awkward. My hand hurt…..a lot. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had sat down and written so much. It was awkward because the words just didn’t flow the way that they did when I sat in front of a computer. They felt forced, contrived, empty, but I wasn’t going to give up, I was going to press on. So press on I did.
The more that I forced myself to pick up a pen and write, the easier it became. I realized that the intentional slowing down was forcing me to think things through in a different way than I did when I sat at a computer. I realized that although I couldn’t get the words out as fast as I had hoped, the slowing down was helping me to process things, helping me wrap my head around things that I had been speeding past as I typed my words so quickly on a screen and keyboard.
By the time I got to the end of the 13th week of my sabbatical, the entire journal, the one that I had wondered whether or not I would even keep up with, that same journal was nearly full. I couldn’t believe it. My diligence had paid off and I had learned an incredibly important and valuable lesson in the process: journaling could significantly improve my own processing of information and spare some of those closest to me the pain of having to listen to me verbally process my thoughts.
I’m different than I was at the beginning of the three months. I’m not quite sure how, but I can feel it, I can see it. I’m pretty sure that if you were to ask my wife and kids, they might say the same thing. I’m hoping that the difference becomes evident to those around me, I’m hoping that they see how much this time has benefited me. I’m hoping that my goal of delivering a better me at the end of thirteen weeks will be realized.
My heart is full of gratitude for my church and this gift that I received. Even in the midst of a difficult season, they were willing to cut me loose to be recharged. For this, I will be forever grateful and I’m pretty sure that my family shares that same amount of gratitude as well.