Note: This post was sent out by email in April but not added to this site until August. See also: February Newsletter - Lucy and the Magician's Book
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. – Isaiah 30:15
Perhaps you’re not interested in a newsletter that’s more personal essay than ministry report, but maybe you are. I’m a third of the way through my sabbatical and thought it would be good to “check in.”
“Our hope for you, what we’d say would make it an effective sabbatical, is that you would hear from God. That you would hear from God about your past, your present, and your future.” That’s what the organizers of the workshop I attended back in February said to all of us who came. I took their words to heart.
Clearly, the “future” bit would be best saved for the end; the “past” bit sounded intimidating, not where I wanted to start. But these two months, the portion of the sabbatical focused on rest, have been so helpful in teaching me to recognize and adapt to the rhythms of my life in the present. Some people find it pretty easy to live one day at a time. But for me, I knew learning how to rest would take experimenting, some practice.
Life in the Slow Lane
Here are a couple of things that have helped. Maybe they would work for you, too.
Menus: I stopped making to-do lists; instead I bought a set of Crayola markers and a big tablet of construction paper and started making colorful “menus” of healthy and delicious-sounding ideas, each of which might be a good choice for any given day. I’ve let myself off the hook on obligations. I’ve pursued mild adventures like learning to bake my own bread, going to the movies, and reading books I’d not gotten around to before.
Margins: I’ve paid attention to what it felt like to have big margins in my life, to be relaxed instead of rushed or under pressure. I like that feeling. I’ve also tried – though this has been a bigger challenge – to honestly examine and pray about feelings of guilt, shame, or pain when they came up rather than putting up walls to keep them away until “I have time to deal with them.”
Boredom? Two words: embrace it. Well, I don’t like being bored or lonely, but am willing to accept some level of silence and solitude if that’s part of the cost (blessing?) of dodging the bullet of busyness. Not being able to say, “I’m keeping busy!” sounds un-American, I know, but I’m getting used to it. I’m cultivating my taste for a quiet, content life. Still a ways to go. But if all this sabbatical accomplishes is to teach me what it feels like to live one day at a time, it will have been a great gift.
Some of the things I’ve done might not have been on someone else’s list of “things OK to do on the Sabbath,” but everybody’s different. I served on a committee helping several hundred members of my church complete a plan to read through the Bible in 90 days (see http://www.biblein90days.org). In March alone we read from Jeremiah through Revelation! But it was great, and without all the pressures of ordinary life I was able to keep up with it and enjoy it immensely. I feel like I got to know God better, saw his passion in the message of the prophets, his majesty in the poetry and psalms, his mercy in the gospels, his guidance in the epistles, his plan unfolding throughout. Great stuff.
I’ve also been helping pull together and edit a devotional book for PIONEERS. It includes reflective writings from PIONEERS staff around the world and will be distributed at an upcoming international leadership event. Working on this has helped me feel connected to a great family of people who feel the same pressures I do and more and are learning to trust God in their own lives and the unlikely things they are attempting in their ministries.
Meanwhile, I’m happy to say the world is carrying on just fine without my efforts. Missions Catalyst e- Magazine continues to roll along and is doing well. The ethnography team I trained has been to North India and back and lived to tell the tale. They are working on some follow-up projects I hope to share with you later. I expect to re-engage with both the ezine and ethnography projects in August or September.
Facing the Grief of the Past
Back when February roared in with two 60-hour work weeks, I knew that the deceleration into sabbatical mode would probably be awkward and painful. And so it was. Staying in my own home was much easier to arrange and less risky than taking a sabbatical on the other side of the planet as I did eight years ago, but it’s been tough to establish boundaries. I’m still copied on a lot of emails, for example. Also, my neighborhood seems haunted by the absence of people I loved who moved away years ago. Do I need to get away? I wasn’t planning to travel and don’t have money put aside for it. But maybe the journey will be more metaphorical. I’ve started paying attention to the things that upset me and look for the patterns and meanings behind them.
Moving out of the office was tough. Especially sorting and packing up my research and networking stuff, the treasures and debris from so many years of ministry. What files should I keep because I may use them again? What things should be tossed out or laid to rest? Over the years, little by little, I had taken on a ministry role a friend labeled “keeper of the tribal lore.” With the tribe scattered and most of them assimilated into new communities I feel like a grieving widow, an abandoned child, or at least like a librarian or professor whose school is being shut down for lack of interest. I fear that much of what I’ve done may no longer be useful. But I still value and care about this stuff. Grief continues to wash over me in waves.
I realize part of why I’m hesitant to take on new challenges and relationships is that I’m afraid of accumulating more disappointments. Yet pain avoidance is no foundation for a life either. So, in addition to learning what it feels like to stop and rest, I think I need to learn what it feels like to “feel” and accept disappointment without giving up.
Presumably there’s something beyond grief, something that comes along after. What would it take to renew my hope and faith? You know, so I could “soar on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)?
Seems like you can’t just decide to be strong and courageous; you have to deal with the obstacles and hindrances that hold you back. The counselor-types I know seem to agree: when we react to something with strong emotions that we may not be able to control or explain, we’re responding from some pattern rooted far in the past. Is there something deep that God wants to resolve or heal? Is there something that will help me see these last few years through new eyes and face the future with renewed courage? If the first two months were about learning to live in the present, and the last two will help take me into the future, I suspect the middle section will be about revisiting the past.
Will You Pray?
I suppose I’m taking a risk by writing about “my problem,” instead of waiting until I can write a more satisfying piece about “my problem and how I solved it.” But I’d rather do the former and invite you to be part of the solution through prayer, so we can rejoice together when we see what God does, right? Huge thanks. And I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know if any of this strikes a chord with you or helps you in your own journey.
Several authors I’ve found helpful on what we might call Sabbath-keeping are Richard Swenson and Mark Buchanan; I’m hoping to track down some books by Marva Dawn and Wayne Muller as well. If you’d like to explore these topics for yourself, I’d suggest Buchanan’s The Rest of God as a good place to start. You might also check out http://www.mysoulrefresh.blogspot.com.