Radical Sabbatical: 12 Weeks or 12 Steps

Posted: March 23, 2018 in Uncategorized
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Taking a sabbatical, in some ways, forces us to overcome the anxious demons of workaholism and admit that there is a God and we’re not it! 

Rest Path

Just the mere idea of taking 12 weeks away from my daily work to renew my body, mind, and spirit seems radical to me. It goes against almost every planted grain shooting-up from the garden of my “work hard and work always” Protestant upbringing. “There is no work, however vile or sordid, that does not glisten before God,” said that miserable old workaholic reformer, John Calvin. The two most recurring imperatives of my youth were, “Get a haircut!” and “Get a job!” – most often spoken in the same breath. Never mind glistening before God, I was taught that “Work makes you a man!”

It’s cultural, too. America was built on hard work and, thanks to those early Scots and Irish Protestant immigrants, hardly ever takes a vacation. When compared to our European counterparts or even our friendly neighbors to the north, we have fewer national or public holidays, vacation days from work, maternity and paternity leave. Instead, we tend to reward those who work hard. We call them driven, or passionate, or real go-getters. We honor them with awards for achievement, dedication, and commitment. No one gets a trophy, though, for taking time off. My friends and I sometimes try to one-up each other about how busy we are, as if the one who has been busier has more value, or is more important, or just plain wins.

On those rare occasions when we do vacate, we tend to take time off only because we’ve worked too much, and too hard, and for too long, and we need to reload before returning to battle. Even then, we mete-out our time off in bite sized rations – a week here, a long weekend there, starving ourselves of opportunities for true healing and restoration.

Even when we do take extended breaks, we bring our work with us. “I’ll meet you down at the beach in a minute, sweetheart, I just need to respond this important email first.” “No problem, I have to call back so and so.” We convince ourselves that if we’re away for too long, we run the risk of falling behind, having a competitor get ahead, or falling out of favor with our employer or those we serve, whether they be clients, consumers, or congregants.

Don’t get me wrong; I love what I do. I’m happy and blessed being a pastor. But I only know how to do it old-school: on-call and working seven days a week, taking an afternoon off here or a morning there. Some of my younger colleagues have a much better work-life balance than I do. I could take a lesson, but I don’t.

Still, I’m sure when I posted my first blog about having a sabbatical time approved by my employer, the Old Stone Church, some of you rolled your eyes and joked, “but Mark, you only work one hour a week as it is” (Ha, Ha!). Even if you didn’t, I worried that you would. I worried that you might think I was slacking, or getting away with something that I hadn’t earned or didn’t deserve, or that I’d better produce some sort of significant work during my sabbatical – a book, perhaps, or a new program.

Clearly, I’m fighting my own workaholic demons. There should be a 12 Step program if there isn’t one already! Such is the very real anxiety about rest in our culture.

Thank you to those of you who, after my last post, countered my anxiety with gracious comments that you shared online. I’m going to pack your generous thoughts and carry them with me on sabbatical.

I’m being intentional about seeing my radical sabbatical in a new way: I’m reminding myself that there is a God and I’m not it. The world will get along just fine without me for 12 weeks. In fact, one day, it will get along just fine without me, period. I’m holding Psalm 46:10 very close, too: “Be still and know that I am God.” In other words, “Chill, Giuliano. God’s got this!”

The word radical came from the Latin word, radicalis, which means having roots, orRadish
being rooted. It’s where we get the word for that red, bulb-shaped root vegetable, the radish. In other words, doing something radical means reconnecting to, or going back to, the root. For me, a sabbatical isn’t a vacation, rather it’s an intentional time to get rooted in myself and in my faith again. It’s time away from the busyness of business so that I can come home both myself and someone new.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of the General Assembly reminds me that:

Sabbatical Leave is an extension of the Biblical concept of a Sabbath day and a Sabbath year for renewal. It is both an act of faith that God will sustain us through a period of reflection and changed activity and an occasion for recovery and renewal of vital energies.

My radical sabbatical is a faithful attempt to return to myself and to God, and a faithful risk of coming out on the other side as a different person. It asks me to go against those Calvinist grains planted in my garden, to greet my anxieties honestly but to give them no quarter. A sabbatical, whether 12 days, 12 weeks, or even 12 months, is a counter cultural act that lifts up a central Judeo-Christian value: our life’s purpose and meaning are not located solely in our work, but also in our relationship to God.

Calvin may have been right: our work, “however vile or sordid,” may “glisten before God.” Even so, our rest glistens, too!

  1. Janie chambers says:

    Well said Mark!! All of us should take the advice you are giving to yourself. Be away with ye, Scots!!
    My prayers continue for you. Just don’t get TOO relaxed and not come back!

  2. Susan Oelbracht says:

    So absolutely on-target with how many of us were raised, thinking only work was noble. I have worn my Badge of Business with honor, even as it weighs me down. Thanks for being an example of intentional living.

    • Thank you, Susan. Maybe it’s time, after all these years, to set down some of those things we were never meant to carry. I know some young people who are making wise choices not to pick those things up in the first place. Makes you proud.

  3. […] Radical Sabbatical: 12 Weeks or 12 Steps […]

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