This past Monday was Labor Day in the US, and while to most it means a three-day weekend and signals the end of summer and the start of a new school year, I like to think of it liturgically.
No, no—you haven’t missed the declaration of Labor Day as the latest feast day during Vatican III. Even though Labor Day is only part of our cultural calendar (though I still have high hopes), when approached with intention it can offer us a unique invitation to deepen our spiritual journey as we focus on rhythms of labor and rest both in our world and in our everyday lives. After all, even God rested.
Speaking of which, there is, of course, the invitation to rest one day each week, modeled after the Divine’s resting on the seventh day of creation. These regular rhythms of sabbath are a call to cease and feast—a spiritual practice that is both challenging and rewarding in today’s culture.
There are times, though, when ceasing and feasting isn’t enough—at least for one day. Culturally, we refer to these seasons as a vacation or a leave of absence. However, just like a Saturday or Sunday each weekend, with a little intention, these seasons of rest and renewal can become so much more.
Perhaps the only time you’ve heard the term sabbatical is when you had to make-do with a substitute professor for the semester in college (when you really wanted to take the class from the original), or when your preacher mysteriously disappeared from the pulpit for a month at a time. Maybe you’ve never even considered taking a sabbatical because that’s just not an option in your career field.
Well think again, friends. Sabbatical can be for everyone. In fact, that’s in its DNA.
Time for a little history lesson. You might have noticed that sabbatical contains the root word sabbath. If sabbath is a day of rest, according to Jewish tradition, then sabbatical is a period of rest (or more specifically, a year of rest, as it is referred to in the Bible as the Sabbatical Year).
Those of you who have pored over Leviticus (as a hobby, I’m sure), might be thinking: “But the Sabbatical Year is about the land getting rest—not the people.” Fair point. Occurring every seventh year (a parallel to sabbath every seventh day, no?), Leviticus 25:2-7 tells us that the Sabbatical Year is to be a year of rest for the land—no planting, no pruning, and no harvesting (a direct command from God, no less!).
Now, I don’t claim to be a Jewish historical expert, but I have to wonder: if the Israelites—many of whom worked the land as a vocation—weren’t planting pruning, or harvesting during this year, what were they doing? I have a feeling they were resting, too.
And what happened to the land as it rested, you might wonder? What grew there?
Today, though most of us don’t consider working the land as our vocation (and kudos to those who do—thanks!), we still labor in some way, whether at an office, in the home, or even in the classroom (add to that many late, late nights). Whatever your vocation, it can often be draining, particularly in our productivity-driven culture.
It’s likely that you and your work could benefit from a break—a season of rest and renewal and a time to stop your laboring and let your fields grow wild with curiosity, creativity, and exploration. In fact, people are discovering this to be true in all types of careers, all around the world.
Take, for example, graphic design guru Stefan Sagmeister, who now completely shuts down his design studio every seven years for an entire year of rest, play, and discovery. Sagmeister shares how this sabbatical year literally fuels his work for the seven years following his sabbatical every time in this fascinating TEDTalk called “The Power of Time Off.”
People beyond the pulpit and the podium have gotten wind of this too, taking “career breaks” and the popular “gap year” for students that is finally making its way onto American soil. Internet communities and resources for the sabbatical-bound—including those on career breaks or gap years—are all over the place. (A few for your perusing pleasure: meetplango.com, gapyear.com, and yourSABBATICAL.com.)
My friend Victor Saad let 2012 go wild with exploration and discovery through a series of 12 apprenticeships he arranged, calling it “The Leap Year Project.” His experience (shared by many others and their own “leaps,” here) paved the way for a new vocation entirely: soon after, Victor and his team of dreamers launched the Experience Institute, an experiential education program where students can explore new fields first-hand, mimicking Victor’s own Leap Year Project experience.
You too can create a season of Sabbatical just for you with these easy steps:
1. Choose a time period
It could be your two-week staycation, the week following Christmas, the entire summer, or perhaps the season of Lent (and if you have a year, by all means, stretch it out!).
2. Take a break from something
Commonly, this is work. Maybe you take a semester off of school. Maybe there’s a big task you do so often that it feels like work! Whatever it is, step away from your laboring, whether entirely or partially in order to make room to…
Start something new. Or pick up something long forgotten that you loved spending time on—gardening, reading (for fun!), or—dare I say—travel! For many of us, rest alone is new enough. Listen to your body, your longings, and your desires, and see what wild things grow.
3. Get the most out of your season of sabbatical by engaging it with intention
Take the time to really “dream and scheme” (a phrase from Martha Beck) about your time before it begins, reflecting on your weariness from work and your desires for your time of rest and renewal. Continue to reflect during your sabbatical through regular journaling or conversations with a friend.
A month or so after you begin work again—whatever that might be—check in with yourself and see how you feel after taking the time for a sabbatical. You might find that it not only affects your well-being, but your quality of (and passion for) work as well. After an uplifting sabbatical experience, you might also find that your work isn’t as life-giving as you want (and need) it to be, signaling some big changes ahead. (If that’s the case, check out two major shifts to help you find your calling from our friend Dan Cumberland of The Meaning Movement.)
Where do you need a break in your life—some room to rest and let the land go wild? What new things would you explore on your sabbatical?