Mending Weary Souls: 7 Things I Learned During My Sabbatical
Today is the official last day of my sabbatical.
Over the last ten weeks, the church where I have served on the worship staff for eleven years, graciously granted me a sabbatical. Honestly, I thought I was being proactive by taking the sabbatical BEFORE I reached the point of burnout. I didn't think I was overly weary. I knew I was tired, but I thought I just needed a little break.
The truth is, I was working at an unsustainable pace and I kept telling myself it was just a season. Unfortunately, that season went on and on and ran right into the next "season." The words in Eugene Peterson's Message found in Matthew 11:28-29 beckoned me into this season like a beautiful invitation.
Was I tired? Yes. Was I worn out? Yes. Was I burned out on religion? Yes.
Through this season, I just kept hearing Jesus say, "Come to me. Get away with me. Let's recover the life I long for you to live."
And that's what we did. We took a real rest and recovered my real life.
I had the privilege of traveling to connect with amazing people in ministry, learning at conferences and retreats, spending uninterrupted time with family, watching the waves roll in on the beach, listening to my daughter squeal on the Seven Dwarfs Mine ride, spending time with unbelievable friends who love me for who I am and not what I do, and best of all, hanging out with my amazing little family with absolutely no agenda but dance parties, popcorn, and movies.
It's been beautiful.
And eye opening.
I've learned more things about myself and about God than I could possibly write in a simple blog post. But I want to share with you seven significant things I've learned from sabbatical.
No. 1 Self-Care is a necessary spiritual practice.
The nature of the word "self-care" can have negative connotations, especially in the church. I think because it starts with "self," we have a tendency to think it is selfish. Here's the reality, though. If we don't take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of anyone. At all. Self-care is not choosing what I want to do or making time for myself. It's actually caring for myself well. That means caring for my physical self, my mental self, my emotional self, and my spiritual self. It takes discipline to care for all of these aspects. It's not pampering myself, but it is getting enough sleep. It's not indulging in things I want like brownies, but it's choosing food that fuels my body. It's not giving myself a break in front of the television, but guarding what goes into my mind.
Self-care is a necessary spiritual practice. It's necessary for us to care for ourselves so we can care for others.
No. 2 No is a powerful word that can free your soul.
I have trouble saying "no." I'm a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser. When I'm asked if I can do something, a lot of times, I say yes without even thinking about what that yes will mean. What it will mean for me, for my family, for the person I said yes to.
At the beginning of my sabbatical I was working through the One Life Maps with my mentor and I was asked the question, "What can't be undone?" The response to this question surprised me. There were only three things on my list. I'm a wife. I'm a mom. And I had a book launching. All things that couldn't really be undone.
I cannot tell you how freeing that tiny list was. There were certainly other things on my agenda for fall, but they could be undone. Some of them I did undo and it was freeing! Another mentor asked me what it would look like if I started only saying "whole body yeses." You know, the things where I'm saying, "Heck, YES!" instead of saying yes with reservations. Reservations typically lead to regrets. I want to choose my yeses carefully.
No. 3 My identity is not what I do.
When you are a recovering perfectionist, this is a tricky one to remember. Walking out of the office on my last day before sabbatical proved more difficult than I thought it would. I kept thinking, "What am I going to do for ten weeks?" Well, I've discovered I am more than what I do. I think this is harder to separate when you have a deep passion for your work. I know more of who I am after stepping away from work for a bit. I also have a greater passion for returning to do the work I love.
When you're in ministry, it's hard to know where your real relationships are. The lines between serving together and doing life together blur. Relational leadership makes it harder. It's a wonderful way to lead, but it muddies the waters even more. Stepping away from serving for a time reinforced the relationships in my life that matter. Which leads to my next discovery.
No. 4 People matter more than anything.
I can sometimes, embarrassingly so, get caught up in the tasks and to do's. At the very beginning of my time away, a dear friend of mine hosted a sabbatical send-off dinner with several incredible friends. We ate amazing food, laughed at stories, dreamed of what my time would hold, and they prayed over me. It was beautiful.
On my drive home, I listened to the Waitress soundtrack and "You Matter to Me" came on. I bawled like a baby. Snotty ugly cry. God reminded me of the people in my life. My family, my friends, my people. This is something I've lost sight of that God has restored. I don't want to forget it. Ever.
No. 5 God shows Himself more when I’m quiet enough to listen.
So many times I'm straining to hear from God. Sure, I'll read my Bible and I'll pray, but I just don't feel like I'm getting anywhere. I'm learning it's got nothing to do with God and everything to do with me. When I am quiet enough to notice, I see God's hand in everything. When I slow down enough, I see Him in the blazing colors of the sunset, in the creativity of my amazing daughter, in the strong faithfulness of my husband, in the gathering of His people. He's there. Just waiting for me to notice. If I'm moving too fast, I'll miss it.
No. 6 Sometimes serving more isn’t the most spiritual thing I can do.
We are, without a doubt, called to serve. We are called to serve one another. We're called to serve with our gifts in the Kingdom. It's a characteristic of those who love God. But here's what I've learned. Sometimes serving fuels our egos. We can seek approval from God and others by doing more, earning their favor, having a "look at me" attitude. It's subtle. I've had to check my attitude about why I serve in the local church. I don't want to serve if it's for my own ego.
I hate to admit it, but there have been times when I've served for myself and not for God. This is something I don't want to do anymore. Ever. Jesus, forgive us for the times we have used Your holy name for our own sake. I want my motivation for serving to be love. Love for God. Love for the Gospel story. Love for God's people--the church.
No. 7 There’s no place like home.
I had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over my sabbatical. Time in Chicago, Orlando, Clearwater, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, and a tiny town in Tennessee. But every time, I longed for home. Peace has been a goal of our home for years. I'm grateful for the strides we are making. Coming home has been the most beautiful thing about traveling every single time. Being with Matt and Abigail, being wrapped up in the peace of God that is present in our home. What a gift!
As I approach the last 24 hours of my sabbatical time, I'm carrying these truths (and many other discoveries) with me as I move forward. God mended my weary soul in unexpected ways. And I'm grateful.
What does your weary soul need right now? How do these 7 things intersect with your life?
If you are weary and would like to learn more about what the Bible says about rest, check out Laura's Bible study, "Life Rhythms: Learning to Live in God-Centered Time." You can find out more here.