The passing of time toward my own sabbatical season has taught me a lot about myself, and provided a reminder both of my own strengths and weaknesses.
In February, after four and a half years of campus ministry, University Mennonite Church approved of a three-month sabbatical break from my work leading 3rd Way Collective at Penn State. I was surprised by how deeply I felt the impact of this congregational decision on my life and thought process. In the hours, days, and weeks since then I’ve experienced a wide variety of emotions.
I felt deeply fortunate that I was offered this kind of unique opportunity that few people will ever receive. I felt gratitude to be employed by a congregation that sees value in providing sabbatical time to its clergy. I felt lament that many of my peers in campus ministry will burn out before they are ever offered a sabbatical time of rest. I felt concern that I wasn’t sure how to live out a sabbatical, and fear that my identity as a busy community participant would be lost during a three month break from that role.
Almost immediately I also felt a weight of responsibility to make sure I made the most of this time. Rather than scheming about my own personal selfcare, contemplation, and reflection, my first impulse was to think about how to actively fill up my time. I started to imagine long winding road trips with our family, imagined how many craft breweries I could visit in three months, how many minor league baseball games I could get to, how many miles I could put on my bicycle, or how many friends I could visit across the country. I imagined writing a compelling book about my first five years of campus ministry. I thought about long solo hikes and camping trips. Before I knew it I had more ideas than space on my calendar.
This process reminded me of just how much of my identity is defined by the things I do, and how busy I have become. I fall into the trap of many clergy persons… being busy provides me with a strange sense of productivity, and that busyness is affirmed and congratulated in different ways by the people I interact. I remember running into the Mayor of State College during one of my first years on the job. She greeted me and then remarked that it seemed like I was doing a better job showing up in community spaces than she was. She marveled at how busy I must be, and I took that as a sign that I was becoming successful in my new role. Rather than hearing her words as a warning that I might be doing too much, I chose to double down and do even more, saying yes whenever possible, to continue to receive positive affirmation that the work I was doing was valuable.
It should go without saying, but sabbatical cannot be about busyness.
During these three months I have no one to report to. I have no responsibility to be proving my value through how busy I am, or how much I put on the calendar. And in fact, if the past five years have taught me anything, it is that doing less, actually allows me to do and be better. This probably all sounds like common knowledge, but for a person who has found affirmation in being busy, some of these simple truths must be said out loud as a reminder.
Over the next three months of rest, I hope I can continue to come back to this nugget of truth – that my value cannot be found in over-working, but must begin and be shaped by rest and the reminder that stepping away and saying no is just as important.