I’m going on sabbatical this month. It’s not something I had planned to do, at least not this soon. It was, instead, something that was gifted to me from my denomination’s regional governing body: a six-week “mini” sabbatical for rest and renewal. It does indeed feel like a gift.
Our denominational leaders who have sought to support clergy in, what feels like every way possible over the past three years of “covidtide,” recognized that we were all tired. Like, spiritually tired. Like, trying to pour from an empty cup tired. And so, in an effort to help us find some renewal, the synod (our term for the regional governing body) has pledged to cover the expenses related to a sabbatical (specifically, the cost of a supply pastor who will provide leadership in my congregation for six weeks).
When I mentioned the appeal of this sabbatical to my husband, who works in the corporate world, he accused me of “not wanting to live in this world.” I think he thought my desire was to live the life of a hermit, escaping all the responsibilities that come with having a job and a family. I immediately became defensive (of course). “No,” I rebutted, “I just need to take a step back so that I can live in this world and live in it with energy.”
He did bring up a good point, though: with the exception of university professors and clergy, not many people are given the opportunity to take a sabbatical. There’s usually no mention of it in the corporate world and I can understand how it can feel unfair. But as one colleague remarked, reflecting on this seeming inequality, “Maybe the church isn’t the problem.” Perhaps all of us need a sabbatical from time to time. Maybe even you. Maybe especially you.
Though I can’t navigate the nitty gritty details of your specific situation and/or responsibilities with employment, children, family, etc., consider this column as “A Case for a Sabbatical.” And, since the word sabbatical comes from the same word for Sabbath, and if you are familiar with the book of Exodus, then you might remember that God was the one who made the first case for it, and that it was not optional, but a command. “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8-10).
Though commandments come across as rules that must be followed, Jesus would later, in Mark’s gospel, refer to the Sabbath as a gift; the sabbath was made for us, and not the other way around (Mark 2:27). The book of Isaiah refers to the Sabbath as a delight. I know we live in a workaholic society, but the chance to pause occasionally from such work should come to us as a welcomed gift.
Our work, of course, is also a gift from God. And if it aligns well with our own skills, talents, and passions, and intersects with what the world needs, then our work has an amazing ability to bring us great fulfillment. But we can’t work at the same pace all of the time. Our bodies and spirits need time to rejuvenate.
Last year I was part of a group of colleagues who spent one day a month living sabbath. We met in the morning, spent a couple of hours working in a community, shared a delicious farm to table lunch, and spent two hours in silence before parting ways at the end of the day. On one warm spring day, during the two hours of silence, I spread a blanket out on the grass near a lake. That morning, the news had reported the number of bodies found in Ukraine after Russia had invaded and my heart was feeling heavy. But lying in the grass, I began to notice things I don’t typically notice: the sunlight shimmering on the water, the ants crawling up and down blades of grass, the chirping of the birds, the warm-but-not-yet-hot sun. At one point, a groundhog wandered up behind me and made its way into the woods. Sabbath gives us a different perspective in this world. It enables us to see the gifts of creation, the small wonders happening around us all the time. In gratitude, we trust that, despite all that would indicate otherwise, the Creator can sustain us in this life.
I don’t know exactly how I’ll spend my sabbatical, other than reading and praying. But my hope is that it gives me the time to delight in the gifts God has given me, so that my faith is renewed and my hope is restored.
Maybe you too could carve out a little sabbatical time in this new year even if it’s only an hour or so per week, so that your faith is restored as well. Blessings on the new year.