“I’m disappointed in you, Rob. You should still be in bed.”
A neighbor said this to me a month ago, when my Sabbatical began. He had the sense that Sabbatical = relaxation, or rest. He made this smiling, sarcastic comment at the bus stop as he along with me and other parents stood with our elementary-aged kids waiting for the bus that usually arrives around 7:20AM. Our kids go out there at 7:00AM to play high octane games of tag while waiting. Sometimes, for my kids, waiting for the bus is the highlight of the day. We parents join them, clutching our coffee cups, around 7:10.
I couldn’t take up a practice of sleeping in even if I wanted to. My kids are early risers. It’s not uncommon for me to hear one of them stumbling around before 6AM, on a Saturday. I am the type of sleeper that cannot really sleep if the kids are up. I also have trouble in June, when it’s daylight for so long. I shudder to think how I’ll do when I am in St. Petersburg in July with 19-20 hours of daylight.
It’s funny that he, of all my neighbors said that particular thing. He’s just started a running program. A lot of mornings at the bus stop with the kids, we see him come running up, dripping sweat. He’s just finished a 6-mile run. He’s lost so much weight, I hardly recognize him. I wish I had that kind of discipline.
I don’t. Discipline is something I struggle with, so Sabbatical has been a challenge. A lot of times, I hear “You’re not doing anything. Can you …” (insert request). I don’t resent it. Usually the person making the request is my wife, and the request she’s making is something our family needs me to do. And she doubles me in terms of work done making our family’s life better. So, I need to emphasize, stress, and underline this (in case she reads this). Her requests are not intrusions on the Sabbatical. But, I’ll get to that in a minute.
The phrase “you’re not doing anything” is poignant. In actuality, that’s not what she says. It’s what I hear. What she says is “Could you help,” and what I should immediately say is “Yes dear.” But, I do wonder sometimes. What am I to be doing? How do I go about the work of rest? What is my “work” right now? I thought I’d have figured this all out by now, but I think that misses the point. I think this Sabbatical is about meeting God in the normal rhythms of life. I think this is especially so in my adopted Sabbatical motto, “die to self.”
I have hiked. Miles and miles in the Eno River State Park, Duke Forest, Occaneechi Mountain, and in my own neighborhood. On those wilderness walks, I listen to God talk to me through the voices in nature: through the wind, through frogs and turtles and millipedes. God spoke to Balaam through a donkey and to Elijah through the silence after the storm. I have always known that God speaks to me in green spaces.
I have read. Deidra Riggs One (you have to check it out); The Next Worship by Sandra Maria Van Opstal; A Common Word (this is by several Christian and Muslim authors including Miroslav Volf; I’ve read these and many other works.
I have talked to pastors and Christians in multiethnic church contexts. Walking, reading, talking – this is all stuff I do all the time anyway, but in now, in Sabbatical, it is in a unique space. But none of this is the “work” of Sabbatical. The work of Sabbatical is those times when my wife or my kids need me. One definition of “vocation” is “a person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication.” My family is worthy of “great dedication.” My vocation right now is being here for them.
I’ve gone on my son’s 4th grade beach field trip. That was a 4AM-8PM commitment. I’ve attended my daughter’s classroom awards ceremony. Tomorrow, I will spend the day with my son who’s about to finish 8th grade. Next week, I take all three of them on a three-night camping trip, one we’ve talked about for over a year.
Also, on this Sabbatical, I’ve mowed the lawn, done dozens of loads of laundry, and taken the trash and recycling out countless times (I don’t know if anyone else in my house knows how to do that). In these simple tasks, I am living my faith in the course of daily life. Sometimes pastors forget to do that. Sometimes we get our heads caught up in theology or lofty goals related to justice or compassion or evangelism. Those are all worthy things to which pastors are called, but not at the expense of serving God in daily life, in the context of our most important relationships.
The real vocation is to live as a disciple of Jesus. One of the ways Jesus’ disciples show love for him is by loving their families, in my case, wife and kids. Sabbatical definitely has lazy moments. “Should I spend the next hour reading The Next Jim Crow, or should I spend the next hour watching The Avengers?” [i] Sometimes, heavy social reading is left on the shelf and I veg out watching a fun movie. Sometimes, not enough times, I do the reading. But much of the time, the answer is neither. I want to read. I want to veg out. But I am “called” to play Wii golf with my son or read to my daughter. In that, I meet God as much as in my heavy reading or nature walks.
I am fortunate to have the gift of this time. I’m trying to appreciate it and be a good steward of it.