Recently I visited a friend who happens to be a university president. During our conversation, she told me a story about a group of missionaries who were making their way into the jungle to share the gospel. Some local people were hired to be tour guides and assist them on the journey. It was going to be a challenging and potentially dangerous effort, but the missionaries were eager to get to their ultimate destination. On the first day, they got up before dawn, encountered few obstacles, and covered a great distance. The second morning they did the same thing and had the same results. The missionaries were thrilled and went to bed that night thinking they were going to arrive ahead of schedule!
They got up the next day, early and rearing to go. But, the missionaries were surprised to see that their tour guides were not moving and breaking camp in order to proceed on with the trip. Instead, they sat around in the shade and rested. Frustrated, one of the missionaries remarked to the translator, “What’s going on ? This is a waste of valuable time. Why aren’t they getting up and moving on?” The translator looked calmly at the man and answered, “They’re waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”
That’s a good description of a sabbatical.
I can’t thank UHBC enough for allowing me this time for rest and renewal. I’m taking the month of April and then the month of June for this purpose. In their wisdom, UHBC included in its personnel manual a sabbatical stipulation for its senior pastor. For a variety of reasons, I had postponed, rescheduled, and delayed taking advantage of this provision. Fortunately, there were a number of concerned friends and leaders who realized that this was important for me to do. I am thankful for what I have experienced thus far.
It means a lot to know there are capable leaders who are taking care of the preaching and teaching in my absence. Our church has a wonderful staff who are supportive of me and each other, and are doing a little bit more than usual to make sure things are taken care of while I’m gone.
When speaking when other ministers who have returned from sabbatical, to a person each one has said in one way or the other, “I didn’t realize how tired I was.” I am beginning to realize this to be true in my own experience.
Pete Scazzero talks about the importance of solitude as a spiritual discipline. He writes, “Elijah understood that silence and listening are the starting points for true, authentic spiritual leadership. Without it we lead from our own mind and ideas. But the only way to listen is to deeply engage the radical spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude – the most challenging and least experienced disciplines in the church today.
Elijah lived in the desert for years – dependent on God alone for food and sustenance without projects or programs. The silence and solitude positioned him to listen and be formed into the leader God desired. The longer he remained in the silence of the desert, the more free he became to follow God’s direction.”
I’ve been going back through the gospels and am amazed at how Jesus dealt with the issue of time management. I do wonder how he would have handled twitter, Facebook, and cell phones though (what would his profile picture look like?). In a variety of situations, Jesus opted to withdraw from people and look to find time for himself, and sometimes his disciples. I find this incredible because he only had three years to do his work, yet Jesus recognized the limitations of humanity and how fatigue weakens the mind and spirit. These references to rest and “withdrawing from the crowd” are meant for all of us, but especially us minister types who feel guilty about not working 24/7.
Not everybody can take a sabbatical, but we can take a Sabbath. For Christians, this relates to Sunday. And, while I realize many people have to work on this day, we all should seek to find a time for reflection and rest. Ironically, Christians are not always the best examples of doing this for the world.
So, I want to thank our church for allowing me some time away and for all those who are stepping up in my absence. This is turning into a time to “allow my soul to catch up with my body.”