I recently returned from a sabbatical. I spent a year doing something different. It was not restful, contrary to the essence of Sabbath, which is remembering and modeling the day that even God didn't show up for work.
Before you imagine a sabbatical and what it looks like, know that sabbaticals take different forms. Some are part of the rhythm of vocation. Pastors and professors are known to receive a time away from work where they reconnect with family, friends, rest, take recreation, travel, read, and write, among other things. It can be paid or unpaid, but they will have their job upon returning. I have a friend who works at the Starbucks mother ship in Seattle, and she has the opportunity to take a sabbatical if she chooses. I call my year of doing something different a sabbatical because my labor took me in a alternate direction, yet gave me clarity and peace far beyond my expectations.
What did I do for a year? I delivered bagels. From roughly 3:30-7:30 a.m., Monday-Friday, I delivered freshly-baked bagels to many locations covering much of Pierce County. I rose each day around 2:45am and traversed about 3 miles to Cascade Bagel. Sometimes I drove, sometimes I rode my bike. I loaded bagels into the bagel van, and I rode off into the dark horizon. I worked with good people--some who worked for an hourly wage, some who scratched together every financial and personal resource to keep their bagel business going.
This work gave me a few things that I not known before, or forgotten in my work as a pastor.
1. I cherish the wonderful peace of still darkness that only comes in the wee hours of the morning. The world looks different that time of day.
2. There is a deep satisfaction getting bread to people. Some say I deliver the bread of life teaching about Jesus and administering sacraments, but bagels are different. Through this work, I have met both rich and poor, and many in between who spoke to me about their love for these bagels and what a fresh bagel means for their day. I don't remember this kind of testimony from many other food products in my life.
3. This isn't specific to bagel delivery, but I connected with many varieties of working people in ways that pastors rarely, if ever, get to do. In contrast with the conversations I have as a pastor, I saw and heard much. I also saw what an isolated churchy bubble that pastors can live in. This both frightened me and provided wisdom.
I had to leave this work after a year because my responsibilities as a pastor, father, and husband have shifted. The early morning schedule was no longer realistic. I had a hard time carving out time to write, let alone sleep. But now I return to the writing. I hope my stories can be as fresh as the bagels. It was a different kind of sabbatical.