Reflections: Sabbatical 2016, Pt 1

IMG_1016.JPGFor years now, I have wanted to blog. Friends have encouraged me to write more regularly, and mentors and colleagues have challenged to blog more frequently. For various reasons, to which I may blog about later, I have simply neglected to follow through. Now, I have written a blog from time to time (once a year it seems), but I have never learned to consistently blog. This I pray will be the beginning of a new era that involves blogging for me.

Yesterday was my first day back from a sabbatical the church I pastor, Providence Church, graciously provided me. I am grateful for a church that provides prolonged hiatuses for rest and study and soul care. I am grateful for a church and elders who recognize the unique difficulties of pastoral ministry and provide the fading habit of offering annual seasons to unplug. Sabbaticals are not always provided to pastors of churches and some people may not be familiar with them. If you are interested in learning more you can read this helpful article.

I have not always been able to take an annual sabbatical. The last was August 2013 when I planned it so that for 9 days I could research and write alongside a friend, Tom Ascol. Tom and I had hoped that that time and work would lead to publishing a book on the church and family. Tom wrote about that time on his blog (here). I ended up being extremely sick the first half of that sabbatical with Ulcerative Colitis and rarely left my home. I only functioned at all on those final 9 days with Tom because I was on heavy doses of prednisone. Eighteen more months of fighting this disease followed before I eventually underwent a total proctocolectomy and ileal pouch anal anastomosis (IPAA) at the Cleveland Clinic in February 2015 (may need to be another blog). Now I sit at my desk on the first day coming off a month-long sabbatical 3 years after that first one. I feel rested, rejuvenated, and thankful for this season of good health.

Sabbaticals, unlike vacations, usually involve goals like research, writing, praying, and reflecting,  as well as reevaluating one’s ministry responsibilities. Because I am a father of three children, and a husband of 18 years, my sabbatical also included IMG_1113spending time and caring for my family. So on the 6th of July the five of us and our Australian Shepherd “Copper” loaded up the truck and headed north. We were graciously offered the use of a friend’s cabin in Eastern Kentucky some 30 miles outside of Moorhead. We spent 8 nights secluded from people, televisions, cell phones, and internet connections. It was incredible. Our family had never experienced anything like that, ever. I am not sure my children thought people could survive under those conditions.

This time provided me the opportunity to read more than usual. One book I read was the recently published biography by Iain Murray about J.C. Ryle called “Prepared to Stand 510HPo8A0zL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Alone.” This is an incredibly well written book that I highly recommend. It was an especially wonderful resource for a pastor recharging on sabbatical. Chapter after chapter I was repeatedly encouraged by the example of this godly 19th Century English pastor and former Bishop of Liverpool. I also read much from Kent Hughes’ “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.” This too is a great book for pastors. In addition to reading, I also spent more time than is normal for me in prayer. Being in the middle of nowhere hearing the birds and observing God’s creation while spending extended time in prayer is an incredible experience.

I found being off social media and away from the television was a blessing. Family worship around an outside fire-pit and long exhausting walks with my children and my wife, well, these are the moments I will be grateful for as long as I live. During one of those walks we turned a 2-hour hike in the mountains viewing incredible waterfalls into a 5-hour hike causing Mary to doubt my navigational skills (I was never in doubt, most of the time). And there was that Sunday we just popped into a small baptist mountain church with the heave-hawing-style preaching. These nine days were a great start to my sabbatical. I’ll save the rest for next week…hopefully.

UPDATE: Read part two here.

 

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