Sabbatical: Week-by-Week

While on sabbatical, I kept a running journal of what God was doing from week to week. Notes in {brackets} are for the benefit of other leaders as they prepare for future sabbatical seasons.

Week 1: Re-Calibration (November 6-12)

We arrived in Florida on November 3 and settled into a daily rhythm by the 6th. It took us a full 7 days just to recover/re-calibrate. We were unaware how tired we really were. After 7 days, it feels like we can actually begin to rest, focus in on our souls, be more reflective and proactive. Leigh said to me at the end of this week, “I didn’t realize how spent I really was.” {In other words: the first week is mere recovery. Don’t expect to produce anything, prepare for anything, or even process anything deeply.}

Week 2: Reflection (November 12-19)

We spent this week taking stock. What is current reality – in our lives, our souls, our family, our ministry? This has been an especially good practice for Leigh, since she is less introverted than me. (I am more naturally introspective and I “take stock” of my internal world more regularly). We had lots of good conversations about current reality for each of our kids… reflecting on what needs to change or be different in our leadership… reading more deeply about our Myers-Briggs temperaments and how we need to better understand and serve one another. {Devote the second week to a good, thorough, prayerful assessment of reality – which should include lots of conversations with your spouse.}

Weeks 3 and 4: Repentance and Contemplation (November 20-December 3)

This was the good stuff. November 22 was Thanksgiving; we spent the day resting as a family. On November 23, Leigh took the kids to visit family for a week, and I had 7 days of total solitude – the longest season of solitude I have ever enjoyed. God brought me to a place of deep, reflective repentance for the sins of self-love, self-will, and self-reliance. These were not “new” sins to me, but the Holy Spirit graciously brought a deeper realization and repentance of their depth and significance, combined with a sweet affirmation of the Father’s love for me in spite of them. He also reminded me that “these sins you will always have with you” – but that in my weakness, the goodness and faithfulness of God and the mediation of Christ are much richer. He brought to mind the blessed comfort of the Heidelberg Catechism: for God’s people, “their sins are pardoned and their ongoing weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ.” My ongoing weakness is OK. It’s covered by Christ’s perfection.

Also, for the first time ever, I experienced the reality the ancient spiritual writers call “contemplation” – a worshipful thing to experience, but a hard one to describe. It’s essentially a sweet, joyous, experiential knowledge of the nearness and presence of God. It often only comes at the end of a long and disciplined season of prayer, fasting, stillness, and solitude. Here’s what it felt like: I had no desire to read, write, or even consciously pray, but only to be still and enjoy God. When I tried to read or write, the desire just wasn’t there. One day I walked on the beach all afternoon. On another day, I sat on the front porch for hours, resting serenely in the presence of God. I wasn’t passively “doing nothing;” but then, I wasn’t doing anything either. My heart had a strange and settled lack of ambition – but not laziness or indifference. My desire to quiet my soul and simply be with God was stronger than my ambition to read, write, eat, talk, or create. This experience alone was worth the entire sabbatical.

Week 5: Mild Re-Entry (December 3-10)

My sabbatical rhythms were interrupted during this week by a trip to Dallas for an Acts 29 board meeting. This was in some ways a “lost week” as far as rest went, but still good for me. It was a blessing to be able to re-enter movement leadership for a day – and then return to sabbatical immediately afterward to pray and reflect on my role, my fellow leaders, and what God is calling me to in this season of my life. I was also facing some editing deadlines imposed by my publisher, so I ended up doing a lot of “work” during this week. {Try to avoid this in your sabbatical planning.}

Week 6: Re-Imagining (December 10-16)

This was our final week in St. Augustine. Having reflected on the past, and having experienced God’s gracious condescension in the present, my soul began very slowly to turn toward the future. What does it mean for me to step back in at Coram Deo? What must I do differently? How do I take what God has taught me and allow the Spirit to use it in service to others? The restfulness of sabbatical and the total un-plugging from daily leadership allowed me to address these questions at the 30,000-foot level: Who am I? Why has God called me in particular (and not someone else) to lead Coram Deo? How are my strengths a unique asset to the mission? How are my weaknesses a unique hindrance? What do I need as a leader in order to flourish? What changes do I need to make in order to be more fruitful? What must my weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms look like for my soul to be healthy and my leadership effective? {I set aside another week after “re-entry” from sabbatical to address questions closer to ground level: What should we preach on this year? How do we need to align and organize our staff team? How are we doing in our mission? What goals do we need to set for this year?}

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