REST, the first component of sabbatical, often comes through retreat. Retreat means pulling back from the fray and demands of ministry, from the usual responsibilities associated with a person’s job description. Retreat means the normal contact with ministry colleagues discussing ministry matters is deferred. Usually, relational connection is limited to immediate family, a few close friends and a spiritual coach for helping guide during the sabbatical time. This means emailing, texting, blogging, twittering and regular phone contact is suspended. Retreat is most often best accomplished if part (if not all) of the time is in a different geographic region from where one is engaged in ministry. Geographic separation facilitates the experience of retreating and opening one’s soul more fully to Christ.
Our experience shows it is often difficult for persons to enter into rest especially at the onset of a sabbatical. Because the pace of ministry is so demanding our minds become addicted to being “busy-brained.” Leaders are used to constantly thinking, planning, connecting, strategizing and anticipating what should be done. When these activities are suspended in terms of the work environment and the focus is turned to the state of one’s soul, the early days of a sabbatical are sometimes frustrating. Many find they cannot slow down their busy mind. They are cognitively, emotionally and spiritually addicted. Sometimes there are medical issues involved that make rest difficult.
To enter into true rest a person must be patient in the first several weeks. Quieting the soul takes time if one has not been in the habit of doing so. A sabbatical guide will help calm the anxiety and frustration of the leader. It is crucial to do so because soul rest is not possible (or at least severely limited) if the “busy-brained syndrome” is not acknowledged and surrendered to the Spirit so that His recalibrating work can begin. So it is critically important to be firm with your soul to stay disengaged. This may feel odd and different. But if under the help of a guide, one stays with it, the soul will begin to relax. The agitation, frustration or even anger which some experienced will subside.
A quieter, slower, more deliberate pace of living is necessary for physical, emotional and spiritual rest. The rest one enters is formed by the conviction that God is resting and we now can enter His rest. This rest intentionally seeks to cultivate the capacity to be attentive, to be present to what is. God is present here and now with us. We don’t have to engage in a herculean spiritual effort to ascend to God. We are to be still and know that God is God and that God is present with us and is FOR us.
The cultivation of being attentive and present is nurtured by simply taking time to notice, really notice things. Look for beauty in the simple aspects of life that are around you. Pay more attention to the taste and texture of the food you eat. Be aware of the warmth of the air or the simple beauty of nature. Be present to your family. Observe their way of walking, talking, and, if children are nearby, their way of playing. Be attentive to your own body. Allow yourself to feel your body. Remember we are embodied souls. Our souls are not separate from our bodies; we are integrated beings. Be attentive to the weariness you might feel. If you are tired and can sleep then do so. The rest we enter is not merely mental or emotional rest, but most importantly it is physical rest.
The first several weeks if not months of the sabbatical may involve longer periods of sleep and more frequent naps! Allow your body to relax. A simple exercise is called body scan relaxation. Lie down and intentionally relax your body focusing on the tips of your toes and progressively moving to the top of your head. Another simple relaxation exercise that fosters attentiveness is paying attention to your breathing. Simply focus on your inhaling and exhaling. Notice the gentle rhythm of your breathing. Follow each breath into your lungs as well as when you exhale. This is the breath of life breathed into you by the Holy Spirit.
Rest of body, mind, and emotions occurs as we give our souls space, slowing the pace of our daily living. When engaged in activities don’t be in a hurry. Give yourself more time for coming and going to various places or planned activities. Take more time for eating and for leisure conversation after meals. Slow down! Resting doesn’t just happen! It is the result of the intentional surrender of quieting the soul.
- Face difficult vocational or personal transitions
- Find themselves in a good place and want to guard and strengthen their souls for the future
- Want someone who understands the risks and rewards of ministry available outside the organization to listen and offer perspective.