Monday, April 20, 2009


How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterwards.

~Traditional Spanish proverb

A few years ago, for the first time in my life, I took a three-month paid leave from my full-time professional life. The fancy title they have for this time is a sabbatical. What is a sabbatical? Three months of sacred laziness. What is the goal? Getting caught up on doing nothing. Preparing for this period of absence from my normal duties presented some big challenges. First, to prepare for three months off, I had do ask a lot of people to step in and agree to do what I usually do. That was tough at first, but it turned into a big relief as I realized that others were not only willing, but able to pick up these tasks and even do them better than I was able.

I’m not administratively wired. One of my favorite rationalizing slogans declares, “A creative mess is better than tidy idleness.” For several weeks, I labored over the details, organizing schedules, calling meeting after meeting with people to pass off the baton of my weekly duties, and to get all the nuts and bolts in the right place. A challenge, but comparatively speaking, this was the easy part.

The hardest task in the preparation period was facing the illusion I had been living under for years: the concept that I’m indispensable. The months leading up to the sabbatical were ruthless reminders of my vanity, thinking I was necessary to the well-being of hundreds of others in the community of faith where I serve as pastor. How will these people get along without me? Quite well actually. What will they do week after week while I’m away? Pretty much what they are doing now; living their lives by faith, loving God, and loving others.

The first few weeks of my sabbatical were a mixed bag of nuts: long hours reading in a comfortable leather chair, staring at the ocean and napping. Occasional twinges of guilt would creep into the day, only to be chased away by that professional sounding title, “sabbatical”, a word with its roots in the Hebrew word for Sabbath, or resting before God. Learning to truly rest takes time and invites us into a whole new rhythm of daily life.

I suppose that’s why we are encouraged to take sabbaticals every seven years or so. Some of us need a reminder every decade that we are mortal. We need help taking off the superman costume, and settling into the ordinary life of being ourselves. More than this, we may need to be forced into a time of sacred laziness, of wasting time for God. In returning and rest, in quietness and trust; we will find our saving grace in such odd places as sacred laziness. Most of us who work full-time with people get ensnared in the trap of human doing, forgetting that we are, first and last, human beings. We’ve become so good at doing, but need every few years to relearn how just to be.

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