2018: The Year of the Radical Sabbatical

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Every few years I say I’m going to take a sabbatical—to finish the manuscript I started years ago, to study in depth the works of one of my favorite spiritual mentors, to go back to school. But I never do it.

Forty-five years ago, I graduated college, moved from Michigan to Illinois, and joined my then fiancé in a high school youth ministry that later became a church for adults. Marriage, kids, grandkids, and decades filled with volunteer ministry followed. As an introvert living an increasingly public life, and as a homebody ministering in an increasingly global setting, my life and work were fulfilling, to be sure, but also extremely challenging and exhausting.

I discovered, over time, what John O’Donohue means when he says that “Weariness invades your spirit.” The sabbatical idea resurfaced frequently as a longed-for respite for a weary soul.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t great at listening to my soul, so a year or so go my body decided to join the conversation. Speaking the language of migraine headaches, injuries that refused to heal and debilitating insomnia, she got my attention.

It’s time, she screamed. Sabbatical Time. 2018 is our year.

So here I am. Slowing down, letting go, withdrawing, eliminating, reflecting, saying no, saying no again, sitting, praying, sleeping, saying a few guarded yesses. Radical Sabbatical.

Given that one of my current physical constraints is visual—a (hopefully) temporary eye condition that is forcing me to severely limit my use of screens—I will be minimizing my presence on social media. My assistant will be handling most of my email correspondence. And so much for that book manuscript I’d been hoping to finish.

I have not lost the passion that has guided my ministry with women in war zones, with refugees and immigrants, and with grassroots peacemakers, but I do need to determine a sustainable way to live out that passion in the years to come. As one of my grandsons recently reminded me, “Nana, you’re really old!”

Reading and writing, now limited by my eye condition, have always been my default positions of pleasure, as well as my key spiritual disciplines. Without them I’ve been invited to seek new ways of filling my soul and nourishing my spirit.

I’m not sure where this part of the journey will lead, though I do find myself moved to good tears by the beauty of the simple flowers I arrange into assorted vases and by the truth of the simple words delivered via Audible from my favorite spiritual poets. I’ve also been spending inordinate amounts of hilarious hours with my grandsons, enjoying leisurely meals with my husband and kids, and catching up with dear friends I missed when I was traveling so extensively.

So, finally, I’m actually doing it. I’m taking a sabbatical! But not the kind I’d envisioned for so long: a break for serious writing, or deeper study or going back to school. The shape of this year is still unfolding, but so far it holds little structure, much quiet, a fair bit of play, my favorite people, and an intentional focus on the beauty of nature.

I turn again to John O’Donohue’s words to describe my goal for this year, as I’ve thus far discerned it: to re-capture “the joy that dwells far within slow time.”

Radical Sabbatical. 

Lynne Hybels