Chappotin and I have been discussing for quite some time my need for a period of sabbatical before launching into “work” with the Christ Journey community. There is a sense in which my mind is going through a bit of a rebooting process right now. For the first time in many months I actually have a list of topics I’d like to blog about in the near future!
I’ve had mixed responses from folks regarding this. Some have approached me in one way or another and proactively suggested something similar; others after hearing the plan have been unimpressed… “So you get a vacation before you start your new job? Must be nice.”
For many people, the concept of sabbatical – or even Sabbath, from which it comes – is very foreign and sounds quite privileged and even lazy.
First let me say that sabbatical is not the same as vacation. The point of such a time, at least in my view, is for an extended period of study, meditation, worship and preparation. For preachers sabbatical can be a time to research and develop the scope of the next year’s preaching schedule; for professors it can be a time to do research and work toward publishing articles or even books. The point is for those who teach, preach or serve in these ways to avoid the danger of giving/leading from a place of emptiness.
Typically when I describe it in these terms people can see the value – not just for the one going on sabbatical but also for those served by that individual. Given these conversations I thought it was interesting to hear Randy Harris say in support of sabbaticals for preachers, “I don’t really like listening to a burnt-out preacher.”
And yet last night I was reflecting on the numerous folks who hear this defense and still say something along the lines of, “So what? The rest of us have to suck it up and do our jobs, what makes you so special?”
What’s really at stake here? What is the real issue that drives such emotionally charged responses?
One of my first sermon series at Tammany Oaks was about Sabbath (recorded for posterity on this blog - Sabbath Series part 1, Part 2 Enemies of Sabbath, Part 3 Embracing Sabbath , Part 4 Sabbath Feasting). Right before we left Mandeville I heard someone talking about how those messages still resonate deeply with her. And yet I can also remember with vivid detail the (surprisingly humorous) moment following one of those sermons when an elderly man told me that out of the near 10,000 sermons he’s heard in his life, this was hands down, the worst!
How can we have such a varied reaction to the concept of Sabbath?
I’m not going to go into the need or significance of Sabbath – you can read the four posts mentioned above for more or I’ll be happy to point you to several resources which will do a much greater job than I could.
However, as I was rereading these posts, I was reminded that in the act of creation, the first Sabbath took place on humanity’s first full day of existence. We do not earn our right or need for Sabbath; it is the gift of God. It’s cosmic permission to eat your dessert first!
I remember once witnessing a mother allow her children to eat dessert first. We were at a banquet/dinner and dessert was on the table before the meal came…it was less an act of compassion toward the children as it was toward the rest of us! The children didn’t realize that though and they spent the next 10 minutes joyously singing praises about their mother.
How appropriate is that image?!!
I have 11 days of Sabbath/sabbatical. I plan to spend a day at a retreat center in prayer, I plan to play karate with my boys in the living room, which I would do anyway…but I’m certainly not giving it up during this time!!! I have several books I want to read, I want to do some writing and preparation for writing. And all of this is taking place, as some friends have pointed out, right now at the beginning of this ministry – when I haven’t really earned it. I have no delusion that my great service has earned me the right to spend time worshiping and growing closer to God.
My prayer is that this time will cultivate a setting where I am more likely to allow the God of all comforts to heal and restore me. I want to relish in my primary identity as a child of God and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. Secondly I hope that this connection to our source will enable me to love my wife and children more completely – I truly believe that the more I look like Jesus, the more I will bless and love my family. And of course I also trust that this time spent in Sabbath with the Lord will continually bring me back to community. I pray that this will enable me to serve my neighbors, to share with them not only the Gospel of God, but my life as well.
I also pray that whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you are doing you will look for ways to cultivate a rhythm of Sabbath in your life. If Jesus could walk away from his work of healing the blind and the lame in order to spend time in prayer, then there are certainly important things in our lives that can be set aside for a time as well. A good friend used to ask me whenever I developed too much of a messiah complex, “Are you the one who was prophesied, or should we wait for another?”