Over the course of my ministry I have had three sabbaticals. Two were intentional, supported by the URC. One, though intentional, was self-imposed and supported by David when we moved back to the US. My sabbaticals were all about three months long.
My two URC sabbaticals had different outcomes. For the first one I had to produce an academic paper, buried somewhere at Westminster College, Cambridge. That document was to “prove” that I had used my sabbatical properly. By the time of my second sabbatical in 2017, after it was approved by the Synod Training Officer, I set out on my path knowing that the only writing I had to do was for myself, or if I chose to my church. No official report was required. For me this was not only a relief but a recognition that, as a minister, I simply needed rest. This, of course, is the essence of the word, “sabbatical” which comes from the Hebrew for sabbath; we remember that God “rested” on the seventh day after the creation.
We are now finishing our three months of lockdown. Some people have described this time as a “sabbatical.” For our environment it may well have been—rest from so many toxic fumes—but when people speak about this being a rest, I am uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable because I am always conscious of those who have worked doubly hard in the last few months—in healthcare settings, in “essential shops,” in discovering how to continue life with this virus. I am conscious of those who have lost their jobs so worry about finances does not feel restful. I am conscious of those who have been without their support systems, whether they are personal or professional—like carers and respite for families with children who have special needs. I am conscious of those who are working in new ways and finding these challenges stressful, though not travelling to an office may be a relief. I am conscious of those troubled by being unable to see family and friends, feeling trapped in their homes, without routine.
I am also aware of the strain so many of us are feeling. We are living in crisis mode. We have been vigilant against a threat. We have seen the effects of the virus. We are grateful that fewer people are dying, that the R number is coming down, but we have to “stay alert.” This in itself is stressful. How do we make choices to keep ourselves and others safe? And how long do we have to live this way?
I guess in the end what I am saying, is life hasn’t been a free-ride, despite what some people think.
The last few months have not been “restful” or a sabbatical. It has been hard—though we will experience and describe “hard” differently.
This has been a tough few months. It isn’t over. It might be easier for some in the weeks ahead. For others it is still a struggle. When it’s tough, take a deep breath, and then put one foot in front of the other just for that hour or the day. God is with you in the tough days and the restful days.
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