Confessions from a Sabbatical

Four weeks ago my employer gave me the opportunity to take a one-month sabbatical. Today, I am returning back to work. Since I’ve practically disappeared for the past month, I thought I’d share a few reflections.

The common question these days is, “So how was your sabbatical?” If I’m honest, I haven’t the foggiest idea how to respond. So, “good” is typically the first answer and then I’ll go into how nice it’s been to spend time with my family and finish up by telling them something about my latest trip to Israel. Honestly, though, I don’t know how to categorize or rate what I’ve experienced in the past month. I mean, can you remember the last time you didn’t work for a month? For me, it was 15 years ago.

This sabbatical was better than I expected, harder than I expected, more satisfying than I expected, more challenging than I expected, and more transformative than I had hoped.

So, I feel like I need to say something about my life over the past month to quantify how important this experience was for me. Since reflecting on a month in a single post is nearly impossible, I’ll give the overview here and do a few additional posts in the future about some of the more important topics.

Confession #1:  I have no idea how my wife does it. By far, the most unexpected surprise of the month was how difficult it was for me to be around my children (1-year-old and a 4-year-old) 24-hours a day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. I’m simply not used to spending all day with them – every day. It was a huge adjustment. I really don’t know how my wife manages to make it through a day by herself let alone have enough gas in the tank to put up with me when I get home in the evenings. It’s a tall order and I’m grateful that my wife has chosen the noble task & performs it without complaint.

I”m sure my kids are grateful too.

Confession #2: I thought a Sabbath was all about rest. The longest lasting lesson I learned will be this one. The word for sabbath means “to cease”. And only in ceasing can there be rest as God intended. Over the years, I think my attempts to rest have been simply because I’m not at work or not working hard. It is also possible to rest without ceasing. I think the sabbatical was the first time I have ever experienced rest because I ceased. And the rest wasn’t just relaxing or refreshing, it was enlightening. I had this thought one day: “If I ceased like this every week, I wouldn’t be as blind as I have been.”

So, I guess, in taking the time to cease I not only discovered genuine rest; I also experienced insight into how I ought to return to my work when my rest is over.

Confession #3: I hardly touched my Bible. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but it is the way things turned out. And I’m not sure that I regret it either. I didn’t ignore it completely – in fact I had some very meaningful times of study. However, I had noticed myself getting a little too comfortable around it lately and taking a break from any sort of regular reading for a few weeks was good to renew my hunger for it again.

Confession #4: We love to look at our devices. A few posts back I wrote about my social-media fast during my sabbatical. The things I noted in that post only continued to manifest over the remaining two weeks. Since I had nothing to check while waiting in airports or in restaurants or wherever, I had the chance to watch people. It is amazing how many people in so many different types of places are always looking at their portable devices. It was comical when a guy at Home Depot almost ran over me with his shopping cart because he was looking at something on his phone.

I will be resuming my use of social media, but with a newfound purpose and method. I’ll be posting more about this in days to come.

Confession #5: I realized I don’t work very hard at home. My job involves me giving my life away on a daily basis. It is a joy and a privilege for me and I can’t believe that I have the opportunity to do it as a means of employment. However, I noticed while I was home that I don’t exhibit the same work ethic at my home that I do at work. That was difficult to realize and, as I mentioned in #2, I don’t know that I would have seen this had I not taken the time to cease.

Confession #6: My marriage has suffered more from my work than I thought. I would not have classified myself as a work-a-holic prior to my sabbatical. I still don’t think that I would give myself that distinction, however, I am much closer to that label than I ever would have thought to place myself before. In ceasing for a moment I realized all these small small things in my marriage that I had allowed to become big things. When you rest without ceasing for a long enough time, you’ll find yourself too tired to work on the things that need your attention. You’ll rationalize them away or say you’ll do them later & then never get around to them. Once I finally found myself with time and wherewithal to pay attention to ways I needed to step up my game in my marriage, those problems and shortcomings were no longer small.

I won’t be making that mistake twice.

Confession #7: The future of my career isn’t as crystal clear as I once thought. It was really nice to spend extended time thinking about the future of my work. As much as I love and enjoy what I do at the Forge, I certainly don’t expect to be working there for the next 40 years. I guess I had always thought I would wind up back serving in the church again after my days at Pine Cove were over. However, in taking the time to cease I was able to see some passions in a way that I’ve never considered before. Much of this has been coming out in my rants about seminary education, but I’m finding more and more that I have a strong passion to influence our educational systems. I have no idea what will come of that passion, but it was certainly fun to discover.

Confession #8: Alone time is still one of my favorite things. I made sure to get some alone time during this break so I could think, dream, and process. I’m an introvert and my alone time continued to confirm to me that I am most productive, energetic, and positive after I’ve had some time by myself. I’ll be continuing to see how I can refine my daily routines so that I can make sure I get just a few minutes of alone time so that I have all the more to offer my family and those whom I serve at work.

Confession #9: I really enjoy being in Israel. I had the chance to visit Israel for the seventh time during the first two weeks of the sabbatical. While there, I not only got to do some research and development, I was also able to teach a little and spend some time with some great people. Even though it was a long time away from my family, I had two predominant thoughts: I really enjoy serving people by introducing them to Biblical sites and I think it is more and more important that spiritual leaders (especially those that teach the Bible on a regular basis) study in Israel for at least two weeks. It continues to astound me that every time I go to Israel, new things continue to jump off the page.

Confession #10: I’ll be practicing a stopping every week now. I’m hoping to outline how this is going to look for our family once we get it all down, but I’d love to practice some of the things I experienced on this sabbatical each week. It will most certainly involve stopping from work, but it will also involve temporairliy stopping other things in our lives too.

In conclusion, this sabbatical was nothing like I expected it to be. It wasn’t better or worse – just not what I expected. I’m pleased that I had eyes to see at least some things God wanted to reveal to me. I’m looking forward to expanding on a few of these topics in future posts. Thanks for reading!

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5 thoughts on “Confessions from a Sabbatical”

  1. Matt, thanks for unpacking your thoughts here. Confessions 8 and 10 taken together seem like a good prescription for the introverted ministry worker– I’m wondering what my own “stopping” period should look like. I’m looking forward to the follow-up posts!

    1. Thanks, Ben. I’m consistently learning that disciplines are vital in areas where I am the most weak (especially when my introverted personality contributes to those character flaws). Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. Hi Matt, I just began a 6-month sabbatical my employer granted my wife and me. (Coincidentally, I work with college students, too, with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.) Your reflections were very insightful and helpful. I’m looking forward to what God has for me during this season, and I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this “ceasing from work” thing! 🙂

    1. Steve-
      Wow! What a gift! I will be hoping that your time alone and your time with your family is both refreshing and refining. If I can be of any further support to you, please let me know. Enjoy your stopping!

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