What Sabbatical Taught Me

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

What if you did less?

This is the question posed to me by my therapist, one week before I went back to work after 12 weeks of sabbatical. We were talking about my work-life balance, and she posed this question about the work part of the pie.

What if you did less?

During my 3 months of rest and renewal I found myself with time. So much time. Time for the people that matter most, and time for myself, so the prospect of giving roughly 8 hours a day back to a job has been the cause of a lot of anxiety. How do I stay healthy without sacrificing something or someone? I was able to say so many yeses with all that time. Yes to hanging out with my teenager (in those rare moments she left her cave), yes to walks and dates with my spouse, yes to friend getaways and happy hours, yes to drag brunch, yes to reconnecting to a worshiping community I wasn’t in charge of leading, yes to my mental health, yes to my creativity, yes to my physical health, yes to helping friends, yes to serving my community.

My days were not empty, they just weren’t filled with work.

So now what?

What if you did less?

I know some countries and companies are flirting with 4 day work weeks, or 6 hour workdays and finding increased happiness and productivity among their employees. They aren’t being lazy, but have learned what I have - there is so much more to life than work.

In the church (and in so many other caring professions) we name our work a “call” and in doing so open the doors to overwork and underpay. But what we don’t often talk about is who bears the cost of clergy giving all their hours of the day to their call. I wrote an article for Church Anew earlier this year about PKs (pastor kids) and how I don’t want my kid to resent the church for getting all of me, or the best of me.

What might it mean that my first call is to my family?

What might it mean that my next call is to myself?

What if you did less?

I ask all these questions knowing that this is tricky. We live in a culture that values overwork, overextension, and we reward achievers with promotions and financial incentives. In the church, we have trained congregations to see clergy as the be everything and do everything leaders. Not just shepherds but CEOs and CFOs and administrators and project managers and teachers and preachers and, and, and.

I wonder what it might look like for a congregation to ask their pastor to do less?

I wonder what would happen if we rewarded people for saying yes to their families and yes to themselves?

Sabbaticals are such a privileged gift, I know.

Not everyone gets one (that’s a rant for another time because I wish EVERYONE got a significant chunk of paid time off of work) but the point is for the receiver of this time to find rest and renewal. I did find those things, but I also found myself in the midst of a massive rearrangement. My priorities and how I spent my days finally aligned and it was magic. Absolute magic. And I want to be a part of creating this magic in others.

Who is with me?