The feeling is surreal.
For years I have observed clergy, teaching, and business colleagues and friends take sabbaticals. I thought the concept holy, but quaint. Maybe someday I would do it. People at church shared so many different reactions. Some acted like nothing was happening. Some were incredibly happy for us (my wife starts a sabbatical in two weeks). Some reactions were visceral, pointed, and angry. Others expressed regret that they would not hear me speak and be present with them for three months, but that they understood this is a good thing for everyone involved, particularly for me. That is the response that makes my throat tighten.
Today, in earnest, I start my sabbatical. Technically, it was supposed to start yesterday. As fatigued as I have been, and as much as I wanted the time away to begin, I have been challenged to tie up the loose ends. Our biggest service of the year was a few days ago, Pentecost Sunday. What was a list of dozens of large and small projects that needed attention is down to 2-4. I feel my body and mind releasing from the sometimes tense engagement of people's lives, church and facility administration, and local connection with the watch of the public. My first 12 years of ministry, I was more geared toward being a troubleshooter with acutely challenged congregations. The problems were often orange hot, but in most cases, I could drive home, and create distance from the action. I was living in a place where I appreciated, but it was not my place. I could keep a mentally safe distance from those communities in Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Iowa. These are places that I care about. But they are different. I could decompress then.
For the past six years, decompression has been rare. I am in the middle of many forces of what it means to be community. I am emotionally invested to a degree that has been sometimes wonderful, occasionally frightening. My entire family is involved; there is no place to retreat. When I discussed the prospect of a sabbatical with my congregational leaders a few years ago, as we organized details of a contract renewal, the sabbatical was important to me. The more I thought about it, the sabbatical was "a hill I was willing to die on." I did not think I was going to make it without one. By "making it," I'm not sure exactly what I mean. Is my health at stake? While I am not sure about immediacy, some longer term healthier practices need to be reestablished. If I kept a tally of daily actions with categories of "survival" and "thriving", too many fall in the surviving category.
Writing is an activity that links with thriving for me. Upon examination of the history of this blog, writing for the sake of writing does not occur frequently. I am not going to put pressure on myself to write here everyday, because I do not need that. Here is where I am coming to reflect over the next three months. You can stop in, read, and comment if you care to. I am coming here to put more marks toward thriving.