Blog: Sabbatical

Sabbatical– as in “rest” and “margin.

Sabbath – as in taking time and making room on a regular basis to step out of chronos moments (time within measureable time) and stepping into the kairos moment (time beyond time; the opportune time).

A number of years ago I ran into a passage from the book, Letters to My Son, written by Kent Nerburn. The passage was both captivating and inspiring as well as challenging. While the context of Kent’s words were about travel, they easily spoke to just about every other area of life.

Take a look:

“This is why we need to travel. If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don’t lift to the horizon; our ears don’t hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days.”

The last thing I ever want to do is wake up one day and find that my senses have dulled and that I’ve lost my dreams in order to protect my days. This is probably due to the fact that my dad was famous for saying “There’s a big world out there. Don’t miss it.”

With that in mind, in the Fall of 2017 I learned about an opportunity to apply for a sabbatical grant from the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program administered by the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Through the years I’d heard about others who had “done a sabbatical” or “taken a leave of absence” and, while I was mildly intrigued with that concept, I just never felt compelled to explore the opportunity. In fact, for years my good friend Rich Melheim has challenged me to consider a sabbatical and my response has always been the same:

“Why would I do that? I’m so deeply enriched by what I do at Prince of Peace and I honestly have so much satisfaction being in the lives of so many people that I don’t want to miss a day of it. I’m honestly energized every day with what I do and who I get to do this with. And on top of that, every seven years or so I get reinvented through what I do!”

I suppose, though, if I’m going to be completely honest, there’s a little bit of FOMO – fear of missing out on the joy that I experience on a regular basis with regard to what I do.

So, of course, the prevailing questions right now is “why now?”

I’ve been doing a great deal of reading, research and writing about thriving rhythms in our lives—in general and in my own life in particular and I’ve come to a whole new appreciation for the rhythms that create wonder and awe, life and aliveness.

For me, there are seven rhythms that I live into every day: spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous, and missional.

But inherent in all of that is the rhythm of sabbath. The rhythms of rest and space and margin and bandwidth, tending to sabbath, tending to rest, creates a deeper awareness of and appreciation for what it means to be spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous, and missional. Sabbath is integral to a healthy life, integral to being fully alive that those rhythms are fully lived.

So I submitted my application in the Spring of 2018 and was notified in August that I been awarded the grant. I’ll just say, it’s a very cool deal.

So here’s what it this sabbatical looks like:

For three months beginning in January of 2019, I will step outside of the usual rhythms of life and ministry with the amazing community of people at Prince of Peace into an entirely new expression of those rhythms of life in several other places.

There are three essential movements throughout the entire sabbatical:

  • First, Stepping In to the Connected Rhythms of Sabbath.
  • Second, Stepping Back to the Restorative Rhythms ofSabbath.
  • Third, Stepping Forward” toward the more Spirited Rhythms of Sabbath.

More on that in a moment.

In his book Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation, Frederick Buechner continues to challenge me with these words of invitation:

“Listen to yourlife. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it,no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way tothe holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments arekey moments, and life itself is grace.”

Buechner’s call to encounter life through all five senses, has resonated with me for decades.

Each day, however, I am faced with the challenge of listening well enough. Either I don’t know how to listen carefully enough, or I don’t set aside the time often enough to listen at the depth necessary to hear even the faintest echoes of the fathomless mysteries of God’s movement in my life.

Or both.

I desire, now more than ever, to embrace the challenge of Buechner’s invitation and to live out my continued call to ministry in new, deliberate and sustained ways.

My heart’s desire for this sabbatical is to dwell in the “fathomless mystery” of life and to listen more carefully to the rhythms of God’s grace; so that I am better able to see, touch, taste and even smell my way to the holy and hidden heart of it all.

So how will that happen? Here’s the plan:

In January – Nancy Lee and I will be “SteppingIn” to the Connected Rhythms of Sabbath as we make our home-away-from-home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

We’ll be Stepping In to the lives of our daughter Sarah, her husbandTravis and our three granddaughters: Ruby Grace, Ryann and Emily Joyce. The reality is that whether we visit them, or they visit us, I am seldom able to be “fully present with” my family without also having to be “partially present to” other ministry responsibilities. Renewal will come by stepping into the rhythms of connectedness, connections, relationship over a rich and extended period of time, deepening our family connectedness and allowing for a multitude of trips to schools and libraries, parks, pools and bike trails, museums, historical sites and yes, even ballet lessons.  In addition, by Stepping In to the life rhythms of their faith community. Nancy Lee and I will worship together, side by side, even hand in hand, gaining fresh perspectives on worship, discipleship, faith formation and spiritual growth. By stepping into the spaciousness of this kind of sabbath, I will be better prepared for stepping back.

In February – Nancy Lee and I will be “Stepping Back” to the Restorative Rhythms of Sabbath.

We’ll travel to Northwestern Washington State—not far from my home town and settle into one of the quieter corners of Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. For one month and with the gift of unhindered time, renewal will come by stepping back to the rhythms of restoration. We’ll go hiking and biking and walk some beaches and explore the tidal waters of that beautiful setting without the persistence of schedules, deadlines and agendas. Along with practicing the spiritual disciplines of daily journaling, meditation and writing, restoration will come through simply reveling in the gift of extended time to do more than simply skim, speedread and highlight my way through the works of the authors that continue to shape my life without the insistent questions: “How will I teach this or preach about that?”

And then in March the third part of the sabbatical presents a remarkable adventure in two parts –

while keeping in mind the profound words attributed to Henri Nouwen – “Sometimes you have to go far in order to come near…” Nancy Lee and I will be Stepping Forward” toward the more Spirited Rhythms of Sabbath as we make our way to South Island, New Zealand. For 14 days we will “go far” and we will “come near” by doing some things that stretch us in every way: hiking, kayaking, biking, zip-lining, rafting, and backpacking. It’s going to be amazing.

After returning from New Zealand, I will step forward toward the culmination of my sabbatical journey. Around the third week of March, Nancy Lee will bless me on my way as I begin an important and personal work of returning. I’ll do that by burrowing into a quiet place that I’ve gone many times over the past several years to read and write. Finally, my reunion with my family, friends and colleagues here in Burnsville will take place as the month of April unfolds and the months that follow.

And that, my friends, is my story and I’m sticking to it.

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A Blessing

And now, friends, may you rediscover—or maybe for the first time – the life-givingrhythms humming on your life. And may those rhythms continue to redefine,reinvent, and reinvigorate you. And may you thrive in ways that bring clarityto your identity, illuminates your purpose and sustains your thriving lives.

And remember this: in the words of Thomas Merton: “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony…”