Monday, August 21, 2017

Sabbatical Rest and Return

It's been ten weeks since I began my social media detox. That's meant no blogging,  photos or pithy quotes for over 80 days. I know because I get sulky updates from Facebook every few days reminding me of my neglectful ways. Instead, I've read a lot, underlined my Bible  plenty and filled a couple of journals with prayers and musings. It's been delightful to be able to withdraw and reflect without feeling any pressure to produce. That's been the theme of our sabbatical. We are profoundly thankful to God for the generosity of our team and church who have sacrificed much to give us space to be without having to do

The word sabbatical comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, which means to stop, to rest and to celebrate. It's where we get the Biblical idea of sabbath, which first occurred when  God rested from his work on the 7th day of creation and reflected on all He had made declaring, "It is good." God stopped and rejoiced in His work, and calls us as his image bearers to do the same for our own good. A sabbatical then, is really an extended sabbath intended for rest, joyful reflection on a past season of work, and restoration for the next season of  work. So how has that been then?

Sabbatical Re-centering

It's been a gift to be able to do a fair amount of travel, taking our kids to visit One Light Church in Thailand, vacation in South East Asia, drop our oldest son, Asher at college in Chicago and vacation in Santa Barbara. We've made some amazing family memories in some beautiful places and now have my parents with us for seven weeks, all of which we treasure with gratitude. Speaking of travel though, when you're driving in foreign cities, google maps becomes a vital travel companion. Truth be told, in an otherwise peaceful sabbatical our most unpeaceful moments have been trying to navigate with google maps! That said, there's this button on google maps called re-center that is extremely helpful. It's when your car icon has moved off the screen so you're looking at a map and following a voice command but you can't actually see where you are on the map. When you press re-center you suddenly see yourself in right perspective with your surroundings. That's what Sabbatical has felt like for Rynelle and I; a blessed re-centering of our souls that has produced clarity and peace on the journey marked out for us.

Sabbatical struggle

I know, you're probably thinking, "Struggle? Yeah right, the struggle is real, I bet. Ten weeks of vacation!" But honestly, while Sabbatical has been a profound gift, it's also been a struggle for me, because I'm not that good at stopping to rest and rejoice. I, like many of you, feel the need to keep producing because my identity tends to be quite wrapped up in what I do. Judith Shulevitz refers to this as "the soul's inner murmur of self-reproach." This means that even after my body has rested, my soul is still murmuring with a need to justify itself through producing, making deep rest of the soul quite illusive. What we need is a rest beneath the rest and I found that this deep rest; a kind of REM of the soul, didn't come so much through vacationing in exotic places, as fun as that was. It came through some sacred home rhythms. In fact, six of the ten weeks have been spent hiding out at home in a  rhythm of soul care, making every effort to enter His rest. (Heb 4:11 ) Such a conundrum, isn't it, that entering into Christ's rest requires effort? But it does. 

A real keep for us was having a sabbatical team of friends made up of the Barrs, the Saltas's and the Santiago's, who've provided wise care and counsel for us leading up to and during the time. We've been greatly helped by going for prayer every week with our friends, the Sappingtons. We've each had a spiritual director who has prepared us for our own personal solitary retreat. We've spent some time doing some personality testing and coaching for our marriage. We've visited other churches on Sundays and re-worked our devotional disciplines. All of these rhythms have been a means of grace to us. Jesus has been very kind, decisive and near as we've sought Him through them. As Augustine wrote, "Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." 

Sabbatical return  

So what now? Well, we return this Sunday, ready to get back into a more realistic rhythm of work and rest. We've so missed our Southlands family. I've missed preaching, leading and pastoring. We're eager to catch up on all God has been doing through the summer at Southlands, and excited for the launch of the new academic year which includes the launch of Southlands Chino. But we want to make every effort to translate some of our new rhythms of rest into our current rhythms of work. I'm not wanting to go back to business as usual as much as I'm wanting us all to learn to work with Christ, whose yoke is easy. This is why my first message this Sunday at Southlands Brea will be on The Sacred Rhythm of Sabbath. Can't wait to see you there.


  1. Can't wait to welcome you back, you've all been missed!

  2. We have missed you guys so much! Can't wait to see you on Sunday!! :) So glad your time away was restful and peaceful!

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    1. Alan, you've given me much to ponder as I do not rest well or easily. Looking forward to seeing you.