a mentor of ours added that the purpose is for growth and learning, while also relaxing and taking time away from the normal. our church gifted us with 4 weeks after our 7 years of pastoring at epic. ben decided to take two this year and two the next. it would take place in london, england -- another global city. initially we thought the highlight would be the hillsong conference, but so much more got added to the schedule. and everything that was planned and unplanned has carved itself into our very lives and we have seen already it's affect on our marriage and anticipate it affecting our family, our church, our city, and this generation.
i don't know many sabbatical stories. but i can sure tell you ours.
note: i'm not going to use the accurate words to describe what we sense the Holy Spirit doing in us, nor the festive words to articulate what this trip has done for our marriage, our writings, and our souls. but you'd say the same thing to me about something you've experienced that was of another world.
i can attest that sabbaticals should be such that you tap into the Kingdom of God for a breather, a refresher, a transformation of what has been and what God has yet to do in and through you. it's been a centering around God for the past seven years of ordinary days that led us to this sacred time. sabbaticals are for renewal and aligning more clearly with the sovereign direction of the Holy Spirit over our lives and those we lead.
days before our journey, i deliberately opened up my heart to God and jotted these words:
in london with ben attending meetings. listening to what God is doing in the city, in the church, and in Christian leaders. romancing ben. holding hands as we walk. putting him first. listening well. engaging in vision, conversation. gratitude, forward thinking. always sharing highlights and God stirrings. embracing london. the sights. the walks. the parks. the people. developing the discipline of listening. gaining perspective of being in a different place. positioning myself to be OPEN to God's voice. seeking direction to walk in obedience and trust with patience. thinking through the upcoming year regarding the kids. setting goals and accountability and spiritual guidance. thinking through the next 7 years and where i hope to be as a Christ follower, wife, mom, writer, ministry partner, city dweller, and friend.
the word that ben started using the first few days of sabbatical that continues to be the word that best describes our time with God as He met and communed with us is PROVIDENTIAL. we give all credit to God in helping us live in a healthy space prior to london in regards to our physical bodies, our children, our marriage, our church, and our individual spiritual journeys.
PROVIDENTIAL. the arranged meetings were personal. the Spirit of the Living God spoke to us at the hillsong conference and we received it. in coming to london, we came with open hands and open hearts - ready to receive. His hand was mighty, outstretched, yet intimately guiding. His presence was so clear that we moved through each moment of each day anticipating another word, another encounter, another reminder, another truth. and we were on the edge of our seat, ready to hear and then respond.
here's a beautiful example. we have a partnership with a local church in oradea, romania. we were just with there in june. we realized that we would all be in london at the same time. us for sabbatical, the four church leaders for a family wedding. it was such a joy to meet them at the foot of the tower bridge and break bread together. we embraced and walked and talked. (for that's what we do best when we are together in our own cities.) we found a dinner spot. the restaurant was crowded and loud, but it would work. however, the host led us upstairs to a completely empty, yet prepared and spacious dining area. he sat us down at a table that overlooked the docks with windows that propped open allowing the sounds and air of london to come in. for the next two hours, not another soul was brought upstairs. the room was quiet, except for our laughter and chatting. every now and then we all commented on the uniqueness of this gift. and immediately we gave all credit to God. it didn't make sense and it didn't need to. just before we left the restaurant, we thanked the host who thought nothing of it. then we took turns thanking God for arranging our time together.
that's what i'm talking about. moments that don't happen every day, but when they do, you give thanks and point to the Creator of such gifts.
we were in london long enough that it started to feel like we lived there! you know us. we chatted with the servers, ben entertained the kids on the train, we recognized the locals in their routines, knew the trash days and gasped when a tourist threw a coke can down on our lawn!
that's not a bad thing at all, except our life calling is in another place with 4 more closely attached people. part of my reasoning for loving this place and this time in our lives is that it's been so life-giving. we wrote many things down. stopping here and there to journal. mostly for our soul's good, some for others, but perhaps by shaping our souls it will naturally shape others through influence.
i will never call it a vacation or simply time away. it was broader and deeper than that. God prepared this time for us in advance. we received the gift with humility and positioned our hearts to receive anything from the Spirit. we've returned better than when we left. that's sabbatical success. being honest, like any experience, it can already feel like forever away after you submerge yourself back into reality. so i've scrolled through all the photos on my phone and tried to relive it all. and the whisper from within says, "what I showed you and did in you is to be used ahead of you, not behind you." and like any prowling lion, the enemy wants to destroy a good thing. we continue to remain girded with truth and seeking His righteousness.
granted a sabbatical? don't go alone. take your spouse. it strengthened our hearts for what we believe God has in store ahead. it was a reminder that we can surround ourselves with the greatest staff and leaders and community, but we first hold hands with each other before we circle up with our ministry team. when our marriage is sweet and strong, it feeds our church culture.
if you go alone, have a friend that knows you well who will pray for your time away and listen to all you've learned and need to unpack. meet with this friend before the trip. check in during the sabbatical and connect upon your return.
need to gift a sabbatical? your pastor is human and gets tired. when he vacations, he has to visit family and put the needs of his wife and kids ahead of his own. but if you want him at his best, your church must give him the tools he needs to be healthy and growing. resource him. bless him.
can't take a sabbatical right now? but you're operating on burnout, needing rest from ministry or work, standing at a crossroads, expecting to make a major decision? set aside intentional time to get away and get with God. since He promises to never leave us, nor forsake us and is a present help in time of trouble, we can be sure that He will delight to meet with us as we open ourselves to Him. even for an evening or a weekend away.