3 very unexpected benefits from my 5-week Sabbatical
My 5-week Sabbatical was a reluctant one. In 37 years of ministry on pastoral staff at 4 different churches, I always felt I was "too important" to take advantage of Sabbatical policies at the churches I served. Sounds arrogant, but I just didn't feel like it was a good idea and that's the honest truth.
That's why when my friend Gene Appel told me he wanted me to be the first to take a Sabbatical when Eastside formalized their Sabbatical policy, I didn't go. I just thought I was too important to do without! (Again, embarrassing honesty).
Finally, after 4 other staff experienced theirs, my boss said, "You're going". He built it into my ministry goals for the year which caused me to pursue it with intention as a 3 wing 2 on the enneagram. I began planning in October 2017 for a Sabbatical in May/June 2018. I justified this perceived luxury with the thought that I would come back with a full sail, chomping at the bit, and ready to dig into ministry with renewed vigor and energy.
The problem was that when I returned, that did not happen.
Don't get me wrong: My Sabbatical was an 11 out of 10. 15 days alone with my wife in Italy. a weekend in San Francisco surprising a friend for his birthday, a road trip through 3 National Parks with my 3 adult children, nephew and cousin, and 8 days of nothing but beach, prayer and reading at home. It was glorious.
So imagine my surprise when I returned to work overseeing the assimilation of new people into our church and I experienced real challenges adjusting to the pace of serving in this role again. I felt guilty for not feeling like I was functioning at 100%, even maybe 110% when I came back. I felt at 70% capacity. When I mentioned it to Gene, he said, "I know. I kinda faked being here mentally the 1st 2 weeks after mine". Really? If we don't come back with renewed energy from this investment on our church's part, than as wonderful as it is, what's the point?
I have been back for almost 3 weeks now and I am just beginning to discover what the real benefits of an extended break like this is. They were totally unexpected and here is the first one:
#1-I am not ever supposed to return to 100% function again.
Here's how I discovered this one. I was coming home from an incredible day alone at Laguna Beach and I hit traffic in the canyon on the way home-bumper to bumper-and I was happy about it. Happy about it? I have always despised the traffic in Southern California and become tired, anxious, impatient and even angry when I am in it. It frustrates me to no end. Well, not any more. I sat there with the windows rolled down in my car and said to myself, "Nice. I can listen to another podcast or song from my playlist. Maybe I can just be alone with my thoughts, or chat with God". Then it hit me: "Who are you and what have you done with Greg?!"
I asked myself why on earth I could be enjoying traffic right now and the answer came swiftly: I have no where I need to be. Well, that's not an experience that I will be able to take back into the real world of work right? Then something else hit me: this is what margin is for.
Margin is an annoying component that I hear should be added to my schedule but seems too impossible and luxurious to make happen. What is now occurring to me is that margin might allow me to replicate the feeling of not having to be somewhere right away so that stolen moments, even in traffic, could be taken advantage of to my benefit.
I've never allowed myself margin before. I hate waiting, so I don't arrive early to anything. I've always felt could used the time I would have spent waiting to send 3 more emails or get something else done. So I booked all appointments back to back with no mortar between the bricks. Now that I am back from Sabbatical, I leave early to everything. Traffic is now a blessing to leverage, not a stress builder that could make me late.
My first Sunday back, I went to our new Bellflower campus. I choose to arrive an hour and half early. I got in a really interesting conversation with one of our parking lot volunteers that made me feel like my church is truly one big family with many campuses. I ended up meeting a friend and his nephew and walking down the street to a small vintage diner with counter seats where our waitress and the cook began singing to us as they served us. They had both recently been invited to our church by my friend Mark Butree. They had both attended recently, loved it, and gave me some feedback on how guests experience communion at our church that I would never have known apart from their perspective. Their comments made it all the way to our central team and resulted in a dial turn the following Sunday as well as another meeting to discuss the best impact that communion can have on our guests. That never would have happened had I not had the margin I have denied myself all my life so I can "get more things done".
I have also had to come to terms with how unrealistic I am with time and my expectations of what I can accomplish in a given timeframe. I now identify only one major task to accomplish in the morning, and one in the afternoon. That is 8 major tasks per week in A 4 day work week (subtracting Saturday and Sunday worship services) instead of hoping to accomplish 3 to 6 projects per day as I did before, leaving work feeling behind and taking work home with me.
So as someone climbing the Assimilayas along with you, I have these recommendation for all Sherpas:
- If your church doesn't have a Sabbatical policy, accumulate some extended vacation time and just go for it.
- If you are married, make extended time for just you and your spouse (I'll tell you why in my next post).
- If you have children, young or old, include some intensive time to have fun with just them.
- Do not work in any form, including reading about work.
- Plan activities that fill your sail.
- Have plenty of alone time with just you.
- Whether you can go on Sabbatical or not, consider a minimum amount of time you will arrive early at work and at appointments to create margin for peace and patience for yourself and others.
- Plan on accomplishing only 1 big task in the morning and 1 big task in the afternoon to increase productivity, protect margin and establish a Jesus-like pace as a Sherpa.
If you create the space for Sabbatical, God will join you in surprising ways and return you to the climb of connecting people as a different person.
Wanna know what the other 2 surprising benefits were to my Sabbatical? Stay tuned for part 2 on this topic in an upcoming post.
- On a 1 to 5 scale (1 being impossible, 5 being totally possible), how possible would it be for you to plan a Sabbatical to go on within a year? What would be your first step? Would it be official or unofficial?
- What is the #1 activity that makes you come alive? How could you incorporate that into your Sabbatical practically? Financially?
- Is margin an issue for you? To what degree? How early would you need to arrive at work and at appointments to establish a slower pace and create space to maneuver, foster peace and patience?
- What unexpected things could you imagine might come your way as a Sherpa if you did this?