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Sabbatical: One of the Hardest Things I've Ever Done
It’s normal in our culture to be a workaholic. No--not just normal--it’s laudable. How many times have I dismissed a friend’s honest question about how I'm doing with lame phrases like "I’m staying busy," or "Doing well, life is full," etc.? How many times have I used such refrains in the hope of communicating both to my friend and to myself "I'm important." "I’m doing something with my life." "I'm going places."

A professor friend of mine once warned me that busyness was actually one of the clearest symptoms of laziness. So many of us haven't taken the time to do the difficult work of discerning what it is that we’re actually meant to do in this particular season, so we spend our finite hours racing around believing that sheer volume of activity will compensate for our lack of clarity and focus.

Earlier this year I had the incredible opportunity to take a three-month Sabbatical. I graduated from my master’s program at Regent College, blocked off my speaking calendar, and refused to engage in any additional projects. The days were filled with reading, gardening, journaling, and prayer. The sabbatical also included some much needed time with Danae, a week long Ignatian retreat, and several adventures in the mountains and islands around Vancouver.

In many ways it was wonderful. In other ways, though, it was fiercely difficult.

Carl Jung once said of stillness: "[it] would be a simple thing to do, if only simplicity were not the most difficult of all things" (1). I couldn’t agree more. It was simply terrifying to not be "doing" anything with my time. Often I felt naked without a ready answer to the question "What are you doing these days?" It was as though I was kicking a chemical addiction when I turned on my email auto-responder and began checking email a limited amount of time per week.

Let me put it this way: a sabbatical is not a holiday. Rather, it is an immensely demanding invitation to stillness, to silence, and to an encounter with God and with my true self—the self that goes deeper than our merely external masks of "impact," "importance" and "productivity."

Within the hollow hours of this sabbatical I sensed an opportunity to listen, to observe what the Spirit was doing within me, and to gain clarity about what I ought to be giving myself to in the season ahead.

Difficult though it was, I'm delighted to find that indeed clarity has come through the Sabbatical. In addition to a renewed commitment to healthy rhythms of rest, prayer, and local involvement, I even have some sense of what my working life will look like in this new season. This is not to say I have everything all figured out, but while continuing to speak a total of 5 nights per month, I'm focusing on the development of two new writing projects. (If you're interested, check back here regularly for updates on how those are coming along.)

I'm deeply thankful for the great gift of my Sabbatical, and I have a deep belief that the clarity gained through it will bear fruit for the upcoming season in my life. At least I certainly hope so—otherwise I might be forced into another sabbatical!

References: 1. Richard Wilhelm, trans., The Secret of the Golden Flower, with commentary by Carl Jung, 1931. Quoted in Free Play, by Stephen Nachmanovitch, 158-9.

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