A sabbatical, by one definition, is a time away from work to give one a chance to step away to focus on personal enrichment and perhaps professional development. For a minister, it can be a time to relax, refresh, renew your spirit, and de-stress. A paid leave keeps the financial stress at bay; no time constraints, sermon, or Bible study deadlines; no – or at least extremely limited – access for members to intrude with church business or their own personal needs – no pressing agendas!
Eleven years ago, I was facing a near burnout situation. My church granted me a month, paid sabbatical. They would take care of “business” while I was gone. I found a refuge in rural Arkansas that provided me the perfect place for a sabbatical. One month of just me and the Lord! Reading, praying, writing, relaxing, whatever – it was up to me – my time! It saved my ministry.
This year, my trustees talked it over and said I should do it again. I’m 11 years older and nearing retirement age – yet still going. I have had, in the past five years, a triple bypass, a subsequent slight heart attack requiring two stents, an ongoing major building project at church, added missions involvement through our Association of churches, and more. Added to all that, it has been extra stressful navigating the Covid pandemic of 2020 and its influence on ministry. By the time I could get a sabbatical planned and set up, I definitely needed one!
So, in August, I spent two weeks back at that same refuge in AR, the next week with family at a resort in Branson, MO, and then another week back at the refuge. I thought perhaps I’d share my typical day. Keep in mind these facts about the Broomtree Refuge: it is a retreat just outside the small town of Mountain View, Arkansas, nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains; the “cabin” is actually a modern house in a rustic setting; they lay in a few days of provisions and the kitchen is stocked with utensils; there are a washer and dryer in the house; they have a small cabin on the grounds that serves as a library; there is no TV service, but they do have plenty of DVD movies available; there is no Internet and the cell service on the grounds is very weak and spotty.
So, I can get up whenever I want to, but I tend to wake up between 6:00 and 6:30 anyway. I clean up, make the bed, and take my daily walk. I usually walk about 30 minutes at a good fast pace, which means I can do around 2 miles. It’s more of a daily stress-test when in the hills of Arkansas! Then I shower and fix breakfast. Breakfast is something like scrambled eggs and toast or French toast or pancakes, bacon or sausage, fruit, and juice. I’m not a coffee drinker, but it’s there.
I like a tidy place, so I clean up the kitchen and do the dishes each morning. Devotion time comes next. I had visited the library early in the sabbatical and chosen a few books to read – one for devotional purposes. I have options for the devotional spot – the front porch, the living room, or the loft that opens up over the living room. Some days, I do the porch, others the living room. I prefer to save the loft as a makeshift study since it has a desk at one end.
I like organization, so I tend to do my devotions every morning on the porch or in the living room, read for pleasure in the recliner or in bed, and do some sermon prep or church planning up in the loft. It seems to keep the different activities from bleeding into one another! A time and place for everything, so to speak, keeps down the stress.
So, after the devotional time, I take some relaxing time – no studies or planning for a while. I work my Rubik’s Cube a few times nearly every day – it helps keep my hands nimble and it helps with my memory skills. I like working Sudokus and reading mysteries, so my Kindle Fire tablet provides me with plenty of both. The refuge’s library has plenty of books of all genres if you prefer old-school – and sometimes I do! I always get a couple of spiritual books to read and sometimes some fiction. This year, I just used my Kindle for my personal reading and puzzles.
There is no agenda nor timetable, so I do puzzles or read for however long or short I want! If reading makes me sleepy, I doze off! I usually skip lunch, but if I do get hungry, I have lunch meat or PBJ sandwiches or soup or leftovers from my previous supper, etc.
By early afternoon, I often decide to be productive for a while. I take a book or two up to the loft with a couple of notebooks. There is also a couch up there. I read, take notes, and eventually make some sermon or study outlines. I might even get out the calendar and do some church planning!
By late afternoon, I do some reading just for personal pleasure. That might bring on a nap – might not, but who cares? The idea is no stress! I gauge supper time by my hungriness. I planned for no late-night snacking, so eating supper a little later in the evening doesn’t hurt, but then most days there is no lunch, so that can go either way!
Suppers were things like spaghetti, or grilled pork chops or hamburgers, fried chicken from a deli in town, etc., baked or mashed potatoes, green beans, and always applesauce! I always cleaned up and did the dishes after each meal. Evenings were spent doing Sudokus and reading murder mysteries. I would finish off by reading in bed until I got sleepy.
Sprinkled in among the usual daily activities would be an occasional shopping trip to town, weekly laundry, a few text messages home when I could track down cell coverage on the front porch, or a relaxing soak in the tub. I journaled every day and began to write another short-story for my blog. I have always fantasized of writing a successful novel but seem to do better at the short-stories. I read once where a novelist is just a failed short-story writer! So far, I’m quite successful! Hopefully, I will finish the story now that I am back home.
So, that’s how I spent my sabbatical. I could have used the swimming pool, but I’m not big on pool time. I could have taken nature walks, but I’m always leery of poison ivy – and besides, I walk every day! I could have watched some DVD movies – in fact, I did watch one – but I get enough television at home. It might all sound lonesome and boring to you, but it was peace and quiet, relaxation, no worries, no stress, no deadlines, no expectations, few interruptions, and not costly at all! Pretty nice if you ask me! Thank you, church!