Here’s the second and final article in my 2-part series on the things I’ve learned on my sabbatical. I’d recommend it for anyone to read, whether you are in full-time Christian ministry or not. If you’re a human being, it’s good stuff. Basically, they are life lessons for humans.
(If you didn’t get a chance to read the 1st part, check it out here: Part 1)
Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 2
If you missed Part 1, check out The Intro, Lesson #1, Lesson #2
Today I’m continuing to share some of the things I’ve learned through my fumbling attempts at “being on a sabbatical” right smack dab in the middle of my prime years of ministry. So often the things that God brings into our lives seem like very, very inconvenient interruptions to our well-laid plans. In the end, though, He is proven very wise, indeed. I’m so glad I listened…
Lesson #3: Don’t expect to feel awesome. Expect to feel insignificant and unproductive.
Taking a sabbatical will press all your “significance” and “identity” buttons. If you’ve got issues with these things, which I discovered I did, you’ll have some “fun” times of kicking and screaming and throwing your fists up to Heaven.
When you’re not earning money, working a public job, or have no official ministry title or role, can you still accept yourself? Can you still think your life is okay? Can you still feel that you are ‘enough’?
Can you believe that you are significant just for being alive and being yourself, without anything else to cling to?
Do you feel that life is okay, if all you have to hold onto is God Himself?
These are the questions that hit you square in the face on a sabbatical. During this time, you won’t feel awesome about yourself and your contribution to society. You certainly won’t feel productive (but that’s the point of Sabbath rest… to take a break from your productive work!)
Oh, and to top it all off, you’ll feel totally out of control!
I think that’s the point God’s trying to make, though. You aren’t the Savior of the world. You are not the V.I.P. of the nations. You are not in control of the universe.
Yes, you are significant, but not that significant.
Taking a sabbatical gave me a more realistic perspective of my own life and opened my eyes to my own self-obsession, self-absorption and over-inflated sense of self-importance. The humbling that happens just by being taken out of the game (so to speak) is quite real and quite uncomfortable. But it’s actually a relief to come to this realization – it’s not about me! I’m not that important. Phew. What a relief!
And the sneaky thing about God is that He’ll push you past your breaking point, when you think you can’t do it any longer. He wants you to wrestle with the restlessness. Wrestle with the questions. Wrestle with that sense of insignificance and discomfort with being so unproductive. Wrestle with your fear of man and the fear of their opinion of you. Wrestle with the pain of not being seen or noticed. Wrestle with the winter season where some things must fall off the branches and some living creatures must go into hibernation – all to prepare for a greater fruitfulness come springtime.
That’s the great thing about a sabbatical season: if you invest yourself in it, eventually you will feel awesome again. That’s the point! You’ll come out the other side more firmly grounded in your secure identity in God – a security that has nothing to do with titles, roles or the applause of man.
Lesson #4: Investing in the heart-stuff will cost you, dearly.
You haven’t let God interrupt your entire life, just for you to stay the same! To me, that’s the most torturous thing in the world – to waste a tough season and not grow from it! Change requires much time, but it also requires expending much energy and effort and experiencing much pain. Change requires that you invest something that costs you something – something that will probably hurt to give it. Most often, it will require putting your wallet on the table and making its contents fully available.
You’ve got to settle it now: you’ll do whatever it takes to see lasting transformation in your heart and life because real change is always a worthwhile investment.
The heart doesn’t just change in a vacuum, and rarely does it change on freebies. At least, that’s how it’s been with me. Transformation has not come on a free-ride. It’s cost me, dearly.
So, don’t be afraid to spend the money. Don’t think that everyone else somehow magically changed in an instant, without the mess, and without the moola.
If you’re going to do this thing, why do it cheaply? You don’t know when you’ll ever have this time again in your life. If it was worth the time it took to stop your entire life, spend the money you need to make the stop worth it.
Most often, the money will be for investing in the time of other people. People are valuable and their time is precious. You’re going to need other people to help you through this time of change. You need to open up your schedule to people. You need to get them in your face so they can ask you good questions, poke you, prod you, challenge you and mess you up a little. You need to invite friends and mentors and new people into your life to give you wisdom. Spend the money to drive or fly or take a bus to get to them. Take them out for coffee. Have them over for a meal. Pay for their fuel to get them to drive up to see you, if they live far from you! Pay their phone bill so you can get in touch. All this costs money! You’ll also want to invest in some books (or check out others’ book collections and borrow some!), go to seminars, sign up for a course or two, or commit to going to a counselor or therapist over a significant length of time.
Real change will cost you.
Lesson #5: Don’t isolate yourself on a sabbatical! Get dependent!
You can’t “do” a sabbatical on your own, as an island. You just won’t make it if you disconnect from the Vine and the Body. Yes, you may go on a few retreats in this time (which I highly recommend… silent retreat… no-technology retreat… no-food fast… etc), but “retreating” is not meant to be the majority of your time on a sabbatical. You may be backing off from certain types of ministry or work roles, but you are still one part of one Body. If you are a mouthpiece, you cannot find refreshment when you are disconnected from the lungs! In some ways, you may actually need to retreat less and engage more!
Get connected. Get in community. Don’t hermit yourself away. It’s a big mistake if you think you can “take a break” from close fellowship with the church and fellowship with God. If you are already connected, get connected in an even deeper way through greater levels of intimacy and vulnerability and relationship with others. I would say that this is most likely a time where you need to prioritize relationships over work. It’s more about depth of relationship vs. productiveness at work. If you are not connected currently, I urge you to take this time to become a part of the Body! Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what this looks like in your life and in this season. It will look different for all of us.
Find a mentor or spiritual father or mother or counselor to process things with. You are going to have many things going on inside of you and many things shifting. You can’t process this season alone. You need others. You need Jesus-with-skin-on.
And you need Jesus Himself like never before! You desperately need Him! He’s been trying to get your undivided attention and desires your wholehearted affection! I would say that the most significant reason for taking a sabbatical would be to simply return to your “first love”, Jesus Christ. In the busy-ness of ministry, we can often lose sight of the very One whom all of our ministry is for! One teaching that has gripped my heart and recaptured my “first love” for Jesus is this powerful teaching by Allen Hood. ( http://hopetauranga.org.nz/podcasts/?sermon_id=31 )
A sabbatical is not a vacation from God. It’s a time to “come away with God” into a greater interaction and fellowship with the Holy Spirit, your great Counselor, Companion and Comforter.
It’s only in the presence of God that you will find that rest, refreshment and newness of life that God has interrupted your entire life for! So, get in God’s face! Burrow yourself inside His beautiful heart! Don’t isolate! Don’t get independent! Get more dependent!
Your life depends upon it.
If you want a refresher, go back and check out Part 1