The day after my sabbatical ended, I woke up feeling much like . . . myself. How would I explain to my church family what the Lord had done during this time? I didn’t want to overstate it, but I did want to share that at least some things were different.
I took a sabbatical after serving as a lay pastor with a demanding day job for seven years. There were seasons when burnout felt imminent. But by the time I got around to the sabbatical, I was in a healthy place. This allowed the time to be proactive instead of reactive—it gave me space to pursue good rather than recover from bad.
At a time when many who are engaged in caring for souls are exiting ministry, I’m grateful our church pairs words with action in prioritizing our pastors’ spiritual health and ministerial longevity. I believe this priority flows from love for God’s people, particularly those he’s entrusted to our care. Part of our commitment to being shepherds is ensuring we’re spiritually healthy enough to do so.
Enjoying God in Each Moment
Taking a step back allowed me to see a number of unhealthy patterns. The achievement-focused qualities that benefit me professionally hid roots of insecurity, fear, and a lack of sabbath rest. My sabbatical exposed some errant thinking that hindered my communion with God.At a time when many who are engaged in caring for souls are exiting ministry, I’m grateful our church pairs words with action in prioritizing our pastors’ spiritual health and ministerial longevity. Click To Tweet
I saw how I filled my schedule to squeeze out every ounce of productivity. When my efforts fell short of my own standard, I sought to do more and do it better. I felt constantly exhausted.
I learned that I’d failed to appreciate that a moment, this moment, is a gift from God. This moment is where my faithfulness is lived out. This moment is where what I treasure is revealed. I was too distracted by other moments—past, future, and potential—to notice the one I was squandering.
Perhaps most troubling, I sensed in myself a lack of enjoying God. I saw traces of Moses’s grumbling, “I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me” (Num. 11). I labored as the older brother in the parable of the prodigal. I was telling the Lord, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you . . .” I failed to hear his reply, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:11–32, NIV).
In pursuit of earning my keep as a servant, I neglected to delight in being a son—to enjoy the sweetness of abiding in Christ.
Taste and See
Mercifully, the recognition of what was broken was not the end. I realized that Jesus’s faithfulness as a son and not a servant is a far better model for ministry (Heb. 3). I don’t need to strive to be valuable to a boss with high expectations. My striving ought to be to enter the sabbath rest that is mine because of Jesus (Heb. 4).Taking a sabbatical is a proactive way to pursue spiritual and emotional health, enabling us to care well for others. Click To Tweet
When people look at my life, I don’t want the testimony to be that following Jesus looks like an awful lot of work, leaving you stressed, burned out, and lacking peace and joy. What kind of evangelistic and discipleship strategy is that? When others look at my life, I want them to think, “That guy enjoys following Jesus; I want some of that for myself!”
I want to invite people into something I’m regularly enjoying—slow, unhurried time cherishing Jesus, who has done all the needed work. I want to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). Not someday, but today—right now, in this life, in this place, with these people.
Practices for Slow Living
After my sabbatical, I still felt like myself because I knew three months couldn’t solve every problem but I was also different in attitude and outlook. The uptight productivity guy is now jokingly referred to as “post-sabbatical Manny.” I’m no longer the servant keeping up an appearance for an exacting master, but a son cherishing the privilege of living in community with fellow heirs—beloved by the Father and equipped for every good work.When people look at my life, I don’t want the testimony to be that following Jesus looks like an awful lot of work, leaving you stressed, burned out, and lacking peace and joy. Click To Tweet
To continue walking in this reality, I’ve adopted a few practices to encourage rest for me and my family.
- Weekly sabbath as a family: We focus on enjoying and resting in God, taking advantage of his gifts, and celebrating all that comes with being his on this day. We want to cultivate relational depth, slowness, and simplicity with God’s people.
- Presence in the moment: A big obstacle to this is my dumb smartphone, so I’m actively trying to be on it less. It’s ok to be the least-informed friend! I want to be present in the time and place where the Lord has placed me and less concerned about things beyond my reach.
- Friendship: Pursuing deep friendship (not the social media substitute) takes time, awkwardness, inconvenience, and realigning priorities.
- Living slow: It takes a long time to be formed into Christlikeness. The more stuff I try to cram into the limits of my humanity, the less time I have for the vital things that take time. I’m saying “no” to more, leaving room to be the disciple of Jesus he’s called me to be.
- Vulnerability: I want to be known by trusted people, and for them to see more of what’s ugly in me. I want it to be obvious that I’m human and deeply dependent on the Lord.
Taking a sabbatical is a proactive way to pursue spiritual and emotional health, enabling us to care well for others. It demonstrates that our hope and confidence are in Christ and his work, not our contribution. If we love God’s people—the people he’s entrusted to our care—we will take the time to rest and delight in our Savior.