5 days in to my sabbatical and I was zen, y’all. I was so relaxed and peaceful that one night I actually chose to cook. It’s a magical place if Gina feels enough emotional margin to invest time in something she both dislikes and is average at.
My zen-like state remained throughout the next week, and I felt like I could have tackled anything.
And then I got tackled.
First, it was the teenage boy realizing the ACT was going to be harder than he thought, resulting in two days of major angst (there’s no angst like teen angst). Then it was the attempt to pack for every contingency of a month long trip for our kids, with the accompanying anxiety of “Oh my word, we’re sending our kids to the other side of the world for a month!” Add in a few extra teenagers and a giant dog for the last days leading up to departure, and friends, my zen was GONE.
I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed with myself (well, I could, but it would be a bald faced lie). Two weeks of connecting with God and my own heart, and all I found dissipated within a few days? Sabbaticals are a wonderful, beautiful gift, but surely there’s a way to maintain the kind of peace I touched in that time beyond them, right?
The fact is, we can’t always take the time away from our schedules to be restored. And when we do, we want to be able to carry that spirit into our regular life. It is both a time and an attitude. So how do we keep the attitude?
The next two weeks, as I settled back into my time of rest, I asked God to show me what it would take for me to keep a sabbath heart regardless of the circumstances. Here’s what I walked away with:
Respect your humanity
I’m not very good at respecting my own limits, as I’ve made clear before. But to have a sabbath heart, I have to recognize my own humanity. I can add task upon task, attempting to accomplish as much as possible, and pretty soon I’m overwhelmed. I’m learning to take moments to step away and just be, even if it’s for 5 minutes. The tasks will be there when I return, but the time away reminds me that I’m not a machine. I’m human, and humans are limited and needy. Owning that keeps me at a better pace.
Set good boundaries
It’s not just ourselves pushing the pace, but often the needs and demands from the people around us. It was a strange feeling to field requests for help during my sabbatical – everything in me wanted to say “yes” to them, but the buffer of sabbatical gave me a nice pass to say “no” (and I appreciate that everyone respected that). Without the excuse of something like sabbatical, it is easy to respond to needs without considering whether we have the resources to respond well. So I’m trying to stop for a moment before committing myself – not because I don’t care, but because I want to be able to care more in the long haul.
Do what truly feeds you
It’s easy to want to get away from our responsibilities for a time, so we take easy routes like Facebook, television, getting lost on the internet. But there is a difference between escape and restoration. This sabbatical reminded me what truly feeds my soul, and it’s activities like worship, silence, scripture. Nothing wrong with those other things in moderation, but when I need a break and my time is limited, I know I’m better off grabbing something in that window that’s really nourishing.
Keep a short emotional account with yourself
You know the scene in The Incredibles, where Mr. Incredible is being shot by big black balls? They stick to him and slowly expand. At first, he ignores them and tries to keep running, but eventually they engulf him. This is how I tend to deal with emotion. Feelings take time to process, and they won’t go away on their own. Having a sabbath heart requires me to keep a short emotional account with myself so I don’t end up carrying anxiety, anger, or other emotions that can pull me down. I’m learning to stop and bring my emotions to God more quickly so that I can exchange them for peace.
Stay close to the well
A few years ago I wrote a post for my friend Judy’s blog about staying close to the well. I reflected on how God has an abundance to offer me, but I’m not always inclined to go for what I need. Our souls are like gardens that need tending, and in times of trial and stress, we dry out more quickly. It’s easy to keep pressing on, thinking, “I’ll rest someday” which is ridiculous when you think about it – like living a few steps from a well and dying of thirst. Yes, it takes time to go to the well, but it has what we need. When I’m busier, sometimes I literally have to write in my schedule time with God or it will get sucked up by more pressing issues.
So these are the lessons I’m trying remember and practice as I’m back in the real world. I can’t say I wouldn’t have loved living in that sabbath place all the time, but hopefully until the next time this will help me keep a restful attitude.