October 20, 2017

Sabbatical Journal: The End/The Beginning

It’s 2:18 p.m. on Sunday, July 13th. The Reds are playing the Brewers. Denise and the dog are catching a nap. I’m getting ready to grill chicken tonight. Looks like it might rain.

Tomorrow, my eight weeks of sabbatical are over.

Tomorrow I’ll check my voice mail for the first time in eight weeks. I hate voice mail. (Fellow employees reading this- please send me an email, not a voice mail.)

Tomorrow I’ll get my schedule book and GTY lists back out for the first time in eight weeks. I’ll start sending messages, making calls, planning schedules, preparing to preach, being who I am.

Tomorrow people will hand me applications folders to review, questions to answer, problems to solve. I’m not eager for any of them, but they are coming anyway.

I’ll go to my office and my classroom and see what needs to be done to return to normal and be ready for the start of a new school year in a month.

I’ll discover how little my absence mattered and how others have taken chunks of my job as their own. Maybe they’ll give it back. Maybe I won’t want it back.

People will begin asking me questions.

“Did you enjoy your sabbatical?” Yes, very much.

“Did you do everything you wanted to do?” I had a list, and I did almost everything I set out to do. Not a perfect score, but close.

“Are you renewed, revived and rejuvenated?” That’s a complex question.

I’m rested, but rest never lasts very long in the stresses of my life.

Revived? I’ve come to a better place in my relationship with God. When I started my sabbatical, I was bitter, angry and confused. I don’t have any more answers, and the impact of my wife’s conversion to Roman Catholicism is still disorienting and painful. But I’ve been reminded that we can be so hurt and anxious that we don’t receive what God has for us in the moment. God had something for me in taking so much away from me. Over sabbatical I’ve been able to receive some of what God has for me.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to be part of a church alone in the same way I was when Denise was with me. But I do know that I’ve grieved that situation enough to begin moving in some new directions. I’m able to function as a believer and as a preacher/teacher/writer. I’m excited about leading worship with the students at out ministry. I’m seeking out fellowship with the church around me. I believe that God is trustworthy, even if I don’t understand why things have happened as they have, he will lead me to pastures of his choosing. Hopefully, I’ll cooperate.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading Wendell Berry and Abraham Heschel. Each has given me a concept of sabbath, both in time and in space. They’ve reminded me to pay attention to what is here and not to be so anxious about what isn’t here.

I’ve spent a week and a half submerged in the rhythms and liturgy of baseball. For me, that isn’t indulgence in sports. It is soul restoration.

For the majority of these 8 weeks, I’ve backed away completely from the familiar spiritual paths that I work and travel on. I’ve withdrawn into a kind of spiritual wilderness where I’ve become reconvinced of the priority of the Holy Spirit. I’ve emptied so that I could be full, and as a result, I am full in a new and better way.

I’m reminded of how many of my coworkers and fellow Christians are weary, worn, unappreciated, loyal, hard-working and persevering. They should have had a sabbatical as well.

I’m reminded that when my expectations of the church, of leaders and of other Christians get too high, I am predictably disappointed. I should know better, and I’ll remember that.

But I am still me, still have my besetting sins and struggles. What I’ve had is more time to know that God loves me, and that his faithfulness and delight in me are unconditional gifts.

That has all been reviving and rejuvenating in the best possible way.

So I’ll return to ministry and a regular schedule tomorrow and pray that the sabbath comes with me. I’ll mark the place of sabbath in my day and each week, and I’ll fill it with what I’ve experiences these eight weeks.

I don’t expect anyone to understand the experience, but I’ll be grateful for each one who asks. Many have prayed for me, and their prayers were answered.

I’d glad to be home and glad to find my routine waiting for me. I believe God has other surprises for me in the future, and I’ll remember this one when those come along the way.

Comments

  1. And you didn’t write your book. 🙁

  2. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. My prayer is, and I know your desire is too, is that Christ will continue to be exalted in your writing, preaching, teaching, and ministering.

  3. rampancy says:

    Do you actually use a Moleskine? If you do, that’s totally awesome, as I love Moleskine notebooks (and I hope you can forgive this momentary lapse into fervent consumeristic brand loyalty).

    As a loyal podcast listner, I really am thankful to you for taking the time to share your sabbatical insights and thoughts with us both on the blog and on the podcast – I know I’ve found them highly enriching on my own journey through the Evangelical Christian wilderness. I hope you’ll still find time to do more episodes of Coffee Cup Apologetics…

  4. I’ll be praying for you, Michael. Enjoy the chicken, the game, a chilly one. Heck, make it two.

  5. What kind of pen is that?

    Sorry for the unrelated question 🙂

  6. no idea

  7. Shoot, I thought that was a homemade pic 🙂

    Mucho amens on the voice mail bit. I hate voice mail with a white hot and unbridled passion. Mostly because people can rope you into something without giving you a choice of saying yea or nay.

  8. I hope you had a good rest.
    I never knew about your situation with your wife converting to the Catholicism. It must’ve been, and probably still very difficult and hurtful. I shall pray for you.

  9. I am so glad you are back here!! I am so glad to hear you have spent sooo much time with our God, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God does ask for, or takes back the very most precious blessings HE has given us when we put them in His place in our lives. As Abraham knew God’s promises and blessings would be fulfilled through his beloved son Issac, his love for this special son; the miracle son that God had given him, had replaced God as his “first love”. To rescue ABRAHAM, God had to “put things back in order”…God is as merciful to us with our misplaced affections. Yes, even in the greatest of what HE has given us. God is AWESOME!!!
    In His sufficient grace, Mark

  10. Angie Gritton says:

    Mike,

    It has been a while, huh? I have kept up with your journey while you were on your rest 🙂 Well, as much as I could through Facebook…..Praying for you guys! My dear hubbie says hello to you!
    In Christ, Angie