"Why are you going to France....again?" is a question I have heard several times as we get ready for an extended (6 weeks) trip to France beginning this Monday. Why France and why so long? is the underlying question.
In 2000 I experienced my first sabbatical leave after being in ministry 20 years. Until that time I had never used the full compliment of vacation allotted to me for all the reasons you don't: working spouse, kids' sports/jobs, family finances, too many busy projects at church, and a sense that I could not "afford" to be away so long. Then we went to France for 2 whole months! The details of France are simple: it was the cheapest place to go for us and it was out of the country (meaning I could not easily slip back for a meeting).
What happened to me during that sabbatical was profound: I slept like I never slept before, some nights 10 hours! Anxiety swept over me in repeating waves (thoughts like: what in the world do you think you are doing? This is stupid to be gone so long! You will lose your edge! The church could go down-hill with you absent! and other random wacky thoughts). This really took on the shape of spiritual battling; battling the myth of my indispensibility. The third thing was increased and sustained reading time. I devote every other day to long (4+ hours) of reading: through the Bible, books on sacred space, history and architecture. At the point of writing this blog, I am unable to maintain sustained reading for more than 45 minutes with some sort of interruption. The fourth discovery was the delight of having every single meal with Martha and not one meeting to disrupt the evening after meals. Almost every night after dinner (late ones) we walk through the village and nod greetings to other villagers in a unique, local patois. And the last discovery was the love of writing. I realized that I need to write more than sermons. So I hope to dive into and finish my work on "Sacred Space" maybe migrating the title to "Sacred Place".
Am I nervous again about taking off? You bet. Do I face the same anxieties and worries? Absolutely. So why still do it? Because a longer absence like this seems to take my brain and heart out of my body and swirl them around in cool, refreshing water and I come back recharged and renewed like I'v never known before.
So, thank you Montecito Covenant Church for allowing me this extended absence (actually I "bank" 2 weeks of one year's vacation onto the next year, but it is still a gift for the church to allow it). Thank you Montecito Covenant Church staff for stepping into the administrative/organizational gap I leave behind as I go. And thanks to Martha who puts up with my weird schedule and corrects all my mispronounced French words (more than mispronounced...mangled!)
What steps have you taken that fit your heart to rejuvenate and recharge yourself? How much time do you need (or are allowed)?