This post was written by Kate Sweet, a recent graduate from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology with a Masters in Divinity. Kate and I became friends through serving on Sacred Space together – The Seattle School’s spiritual leadership team. Many months ago, Kate told me that she was planning a season of sabbatical and that she used Pilgrim Principles to help her develop her own Rule of Life for her time of rest and renewal. When I decided to spend a few weeks focusing on sabbatical here on asacredjourney.net, I knew I wanted to checkin with Kate and have her share with you what it’s like to be in the midst of a self-created sabbatical experience. Read on! -Lacy
If you had met me a few years ago, you would have seen that my life was, at its foundation, held together by a commitment to busyness. I even dreaded breaks from school! Sure, I was as tired as anyone else after a long semester, but after I recouped my finals-induced exhaustion with a few days of good rest and re-entered the world of the living, I inevitably found myself anxious and unsettled.
Having had so little practice at resting, I found that I was unprepared to suddenly stop and live without deadlines to hustle toward or schedules to scurry around. I had literally trained my body, mind, and spirit to constantly achieve more and push forward at all cost. In truth, I think I was a little scared of what I would find if I slowed down enough to really contemplate my life.
Yet here I am, in the midst of a time of sabbatical.
This year, I came to the end of a very long and arduous, but highly rewarding, course of study in the Master of Divinity program at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. As I neared the end of the program, I discovered that not only was I on my way to finishing early, but my course load that final term would be lighter than any other before it. In addition, I had also just landed a job that would not begin until August. Suddenly I was struck by the daunting reality that for the first time in my life I would have a lot of time on my hands — and I had no clear sense of what to do with it.
“Suddenly I was struck by the daunting reality that for the first time
in my life I would have a lot of time on my hands —
and I had no clear sense of what to do with it.”
My first and most natural inclination as I thought about this situation was pragmatic: I could view this spare time as a good opportunity to do something productive. Maybe I could get a part-time job and make some money – altogether a wise move, I’m sure, just coming out of graduate school.
But a second, and much quieter voice, whispered, “Rest! Lean into this time as a gift, not as some problem to be solved.” And so, I began down the path of Sabbath.
In last week’s post, Lacy gave some great tips on how to get started with a Sabbath practice. When I embarked on planning my Sabbath, I began by setting out the parameters of what this would look like. This included writing and attempting to follow a “Rule of Life” (read my original post about it here). As time has gone by, this Rule has helped to shape the way that I orient myself to my Sabbath time.
I also decided to train for a marathon — a practice that has helped me flesh out certain aspects of my Rule. The time frame for my Sabbatical was pretty well set: during my last term, February through April, I spent time adjusting to a slower pace of life. Now, since May and on through the end of July, I am settling into a full-on Sabbatical until my new job begins at the beginning of August.
Now that I’m about halfway into my “full-on” Sabbatical, there are several things I have discovered more fully that I wish I had been more prepared for as I got started:
1. This is an extremely counter-cultural practice
This may seem obvious, but in many ways I feel like I was unprepared for how true this is. I am often asked, “So, what are you doing now that you’ve graduated?” When I explain that I’m taking some time to rest and reflect, I usually get blank stares.
Occasionally, someone will actually say, “So, you’re really not doing anything?” When I get responses like this, it can be hard not to feel a sense of guilt about taking this time set apart. I have to sometimes hold onto the truth that this is an intentional practice, and not just laziness, when others cannot fathom what it means.
But if I’m honest, the discomfort does not only come from outside criticism. Another voice I have to contend with is the one in my own head that has reigned supreme for most of my life — the one that says that in order to be valuable I must try harder, be better, and work harder. That voice is undeniably still a part of me. Which leads me to my second point…
2. Sabbath can be hard work!
What I mean by this is that the patterns and behaviors of my non-Sabbath time have not magically disappeared. I wish I could say that I was suddenly and gracefully able to enter into my Sabbath rest, but the truth is that it has been hard to let go of busyness.
Instead of saying that I’m “taking a Sabbath,” which implies that there’s something discrete that I can obtain in one fell swoop, I’m trying to say that I’m “practicing Sabbath.” This helps me remember that it’s all part of a process that includes hiccups along the way to learning and growth. And so…
3. I’m learning to have grace with myself as I practice my Sabbath
Taking this time set apart has revealed some of those parts of myself that could be called my “growing edges.” Without my all-important schedule to hide behind, my impatience, my desire for control, my fear of silence, and my attempts to avoid awareness are unmasked.
Often I may falter as I follow my Rule of Life, cling too rigidly to my marathon-training schedule, or find myself in the grip of anxiety as I contemplate life post-Sabbatical. Yet mysteriously this time seems to be producing fruit deep in my soul, even as I contend with my inability to achieve the “perfect” state of Sabbath rest. The struggle to have grace within this reality is a gift in its own right.
I encourage everyone to make the space for Sabbath! We are made in the image of a God who installed rest into the woven fabric of our existence. It is a costly gift waiting to be received.