A Gift Too Precious to Waste

In a wonderful book about sabbath-keeping titled The Rest of God, pastor and author Mark Buchanan describes a sabbatical leave that he was given by his church. And on this, the first official day of my sabbatical, I find that his reflections resonate with me deeply:

As I left for sabbatical, many people in my church wished me well. They told me they’d miss me, that they’d be praying for me, that they hoped I came back refreshed. And then they usually said, “You deserve this.” I don’t. I can think of all kinds of people who deserve it. I can think of all the people who do their jobs faithfully and capably, even though they die at it a little every day. I like what I do, and I have not worked half as hard as half of these people, and few will ever be given the luxury of a sabbatical. No, I don’t deserve it. It’s pure gift, like being born in peacetime and not war, like being forgiven, or kissed, or told you have beautiful eyes. I never earned a minute of it. I don’t deserve a scrap of it. But I feel deeply obliged to the people in my church who have allowed me it. Obliged, not to come back smarter, or thinner, or more eloquent, or more studied up, though all that could help. The obligation I feel is not to pay them back. These things don’t work that way, on some barter system where the church trades several months of leave and exchange for shorter, pithier sermons. The obligation I feel, rather, is to come back restored.

Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath

Of course, this sense of obligation raises the vital question: What exactly does one do during a sabbatical that will lead to restoration? After all, if one’s way of practicing life and ministry has created a situation in which renewal is a deeply felt need, are a few weeks or months away likely to “fix” the problem? In fact, in this same chapter Buchanan observes: “I don’t think it’s possible to benefit from a sabbatical if you’ve never learned to keep Sabbath…Sabbatical is just doing daily, for several months of days, what you’ve already learned to do weekly, for many years of weeks.”

However, as challenging as that is (because “keeping Sabbath” has never been an easy thing for me), I’d like to think that my sabbatical plan offers a genuine chance for restoration. Part of that plan, of course, features activities that simply allow me to take a break from the rigors and routines of ministry. I’ll go on vacation with my wife and daughter. I’ll visit with family. I’ll take a few brief trips for extended times of reading and prayer. But since the goal of this sabbatical isn’t only to “rest from” ministry but to be “renewed for” ministry, the heart of my plan is what might best be described as a “cycling pilgrimage.”

From late June to early August, I’ll be traveling in the United Kingdom. I’ll tour some places that I’ve long wanted to visit (Ireland and Scotland). I’ll study a subject that has long intrigued me (the history, spirituality, and ministry of the Celtic Christians). And I’ll do this while enjoying one of my favorite pastimes (bicycling). With just a few exceptions, I will traverse the distance between each of the communities I visit on a bike, covering approximately 900 miles in the process.

Of course, my prayer is that my church family will get a similar chance to experience restoration this summer; and that’s why a variety of special speakers, fellowship events, and ministry opportunities will be available to them in the weeks ahead (more on that in an upcoming post). But for now, I invite you to follow my travels as I attempt to “practice Sabbath” in a way that leads to restoration. I’ll be posting updates, pictures, reflections, and so on. And if you’d like to have a sense of where this pilgrimage will take me, you can check out my itinerary below.

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