“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day. If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find joy in the Lord…” Isaiah 53:13-14a
This scripture has been pervasively showing up over the last few months. My regular reminder that if we focus on God we will be given what we need and be used for God’s glory. I am in constant need of this reminder, but I evidently wasn’t getting the message.
I have a problem. I don’t like to say no. One of the shortest words in the English language and I struggle saying it. My friends, family members, therapists and supervisors over the years have tried desperately to teach me how to say that word. I don’t say it because I like to be helpful! I HATE to disappoint! And, truth be told, I impose others’ expectations on myself, some of which don’t actually exist. I have been this way my whole life. In fact, my college roommate used to tell me that I was the busiest person she knew. She still tells me, “you always were the busiest person I know”; because I never say no, not to myself, not to anyone.
Maybe that is why I acclimated to Northern Virginia culture so easily. In my twenties, I lived in London for a time as well as New York City. I think I felt at home in these places because their pace could keep up with me! Just like those other cities, here in NOVA we are all moving at a million miles a minute, to accomplish a laundry list of tasks that are not ever realistically going to fit into a 24-hour period. And, sleep should fit in there somewhere. Not one of us is the exception. We all do it. We go, go, go all the time and in the busyness things get forgotten or forsaken.
Over my time in ministry, I have developed some pretty solid self-care practices at the urging of my mentors and seasoned clergy who have experienced the consequences of failing to practice consistent self-care. I have faithfully observed the Sabbath, not only for my own good, but because God gives us that example and calls us to a day of rest and worship. I have talked to many others, who likewise manage to take care of themselves faithfully and still conquer the world all in a day’s work. But, no matter how well we take care of ourselves with diet, exercise, sleep and spiritual disciplines, when we embrace a busy lifestyle and are immersed in a culture that supports that lifestyle more often than not, the busy wins and we lose sight of the parts of ourselves that are more easily lost. These parts are the hardest to see. You can usually look at someone and tell if they are taking care of themselves or under stress. But so often, the part of us that is screaming to be cared for is the part people don’t see because we’ve gotten very good at smiling, nodding and social niceties.
That’s where I found myself a little over 6 months ago; tired, empty, neglected and disconnected because in the daily grind, checklist and even in the fun, I was not allowing my “cup” to be filled. Sure, I was taking my days off each week, I was taking vacation, I was worshipping regularly and exercising regularly but I was still in way over my head. I let some people see but for the most part I kept swimming because if I could keep swimming I could trick myself into being ok. Between a busier schedule than I could manage and navigating a hard life event, I was done.
I had reached that irrational place of done. You know, when you want to quit everything?! So, I pondered what to do to help me get my head back above water.
Thanks to divine inspiration and the gift of a phenomenal benefits package and supervisory staff. I figured it out! I asked to take a 4 week Sabbath, a mini sabbatical if you will, and IT WAS APPROVED!!! As the time for my Sabbath approached people would ask what I intended to do with my time. Where was I going? What fun thing was I going to do? Each time I explained that I was not planning my time. I shared and reminded myself that I am an over scheduler. I knew that if I started filling up the time it would be full and gone before it even began.
But, it was actually a good question to consider, “what am I going to do with my time off”?! I thought about what I was missing, which of my cups were empty, and which parts of me I had lost. I came up with 3 guiding focuses and a challenge for myself. I realized I needed to fill my time by practicing stillness, reconnecting with God and finding joy. It has been my observation that of all these things, joy is usually the first thing to get lost. When we are stressed, tired, grieving, empty, angry, sometimes even busily content, we lose joy. The challenge that I gave myself was a means of accountability. I was going to pursue these 3 things by posting a photo a day that illustrated how I spent that Sabbath day.
So, even though I didn’t make specific plans I really did have big dreams for my month. I was going to do all of the things I’d been wanting to do and hadnt’t had time for! Berry picking, sleeping in, catching up with friends, laying by the pool for hours each day, reading 15 books, crafting, organizing…it was going to be epic! But, as is the case with life, things didn’t go like I had planned. I didn’t leap tall buildings or climb high mountains each day and in spite of that, each day was full and spent just as I needed to. Here’s what’s interesting…turns out I don’t know what I need as well as God does. Even when the day didn’t meet my desires or expectations it ended up being exactly what it should be. What I did faithfully was approach each day with a willing spirit to see what the day might bring and how God might show up.
Each day I did manage to find stillness and I embraced it! I didn’t fight the stillness and silence. I didn’t try to fill it up; instead I reminded myself that stillness is wonderful and necessary and a sign of strength instead of weakness. I told people that I love and care for “no”. With that “no” came a shift, in me and in relationships. Bottom line, I woke up every day with an attitude of intentionality. I wanted to make the most out of each day because they were precious gifts of Sabbath. They were MY four weeks and I needed to make the most of them.
When it was all said and done and I began preparing to return back to my daily routine (the one that involves working, homework, taking my niece to school, etc…) I found myself thinking about all that I discovered during my Sabbath and all that God showed me. I have this new perspective now. I also have an awareness that this perspective can be far more easily lost than it was gained, but I can draw from it and remember how full my soul was, simply because I was available, flexible and intentional.
Here are five main takeaways from my epic month off:
1- God will surprise you if given the room to do so.
2- We truly must let go of the things that bind and hinder us if we really want to live. Holding on does no one any good.
3- Over ambition is overrated. At the end of our lives what will have mattered most?
4- We must be more willing every day to throw our plans out the window. (I’m a planner and I think a plan is a beautiful thing but, if it rains on a pool day you find a way to make the most of that day if the day is important to you.)
5- “No” really is a powerful word. And, it doesn’t have to mean that someone will be hurt if you use it. As it turns out it may actually deepen your relationship.
I don’t know the next time I will have a month off. I don’t currently have my next vacation planned. But I now have experienced what happens when you intentionally focus your time. We’ve all heard the saying “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.” Well, that’s real. In a moment, things can change and we never know when that moment will be or what it will bring. So let’s make the most out of what we’ve got. I will continue to start each day with a desire to connect with God, to find joy in even the small things and to make time to be still. I hope you will join me.