Sabbatical was a rare gift of some lessons I am still very much processing, so this post is somewhat of a work in progress.
Most of my sabbatical was spent in summer time, half of it overseas in cultures that move much slower than ours, even western cultures. The other half here at home, living a loosely structured rhythm of serving, learning and playing. I also had the rare privilege of being unplugged from my cellphone and email for 14 weeks, so all of this coalesced to provide insight into how our culture affects our soul’s ability to connect with God.
My conclusion is this: pace and pressure are spiritual appetite suppressors. I don’t imagine you read that statement and declared, “what is this new teaching?” You know this already, but I thought I knew it already as well.
Our particular culture has pace and pressure in spades with both increasing in scope and depth every year. I think since we live fully immersed in it, we’re not as able to see its affects. I was shocked at how long it took for my soul to open up to God during sabbatical. I naively thought it would just happen, but instead I think my soul needed large doses of un-pace, un-pressure time to open up my posture more fully to God and God’s voice.
I briefly mentioned in a previous post that most Christians I know live with a low level constant guilt that they should be praying more and reading Scripture more. Sure, on the one hand, that is probably right. Turn that to the other extreme for a moment though – have you ever witnessed one believer saying to another, “actually, you are reading WAY TOO MUCH, and you really should be praying less.” I ask this absurd question to highlight what is not obvious to us: the “should do more” treadmill never actually leads to a finish line. It has no clear destination, no end in sight, it just keeps you trying, trying, trying ever more exhausted until you decide you’re never going to be one of those ‘spiritual’ people.
What if the path to deeper connection to God isn’t “try harder, do more” but instead is “critically combat the pace and pressure of your life to help your soul’s appetite thrive.” Before sabbatical I did these practices – annual retreats, occasional days of prayer and study, although as the church grew I neglected the frequency I used to have. But other pressures snuck up on me as well. Now I see that too many of my prayers were “work” prayers. I didn’t spend as much time enjoying God, I was asking something from him for the church. Too much of my study time was for a sermon or teaching and I had slowly removed the reading for its own end. For everyone of us it is surely different, but now that I am back in the pressure and pace, I have been shocked at the stark contrast between my sabbatical life and my normal life. Of course, I fully embrace living in and engaging this culture, so pressure and pace come along with that, but I don’t have to wholesale accept it. I can fight back. Here are a few ways I am fighting back:
- Whenever I can, I walk to and from church instead of driving. It is a 4 minute drive and a 25 minute walk from my house. I’m not yet sure what I will do when the temperatures drastically drop, but I’ll probably still walk as much as I can. I’ve been averaging 15 miles per week since I started back. On these walks I pray – sometimes for other people, sometimes just enjoying God and his blessings, sometimes a combination. I also listen to sermons (nerd alert – I enjoy listening to sermons.) Mostly though, I notice the power of an intentionally slower life. Walking to walk is my protest against the tyranny of always-more-to-do. Many of us have vocations that require more done than time to do it. Intentionally slowing down reminds me of the lessons of Sabbath: God is in control not me, it doesn’t depend on me as much as I think it does or as much as I want it to. (Its nice to feel important, but it can also be a soul toxin.) On days I cannot walk to work, I walk around our property. I drove today, but I have a lunch appointment about 1.5 miles away. I’ll be walking to it and back from it.
- I am dedicating time multiple times per week where I read and listen to podcasts for their own end. I think the old language for this was “devotional time” and I noticed that as the pressure of ministry increased, this time decreased. I actually read and listened more and more, but almost always for sermon prep time. Now, even if I hear or read something that would really help a sermon, I refuse to record it or use it. I can’t tell you how difficult this is for a preacher, but I have concluded that it is essential to soul health. Just think, God might reveal the most amazing insight of all time about him and I’ll never share it. Wowzers.
- I am intentionally spending time in personal worship through song. I have vacillated over the years in my relationship with the modern worship music movement, but I’m embracing it currently. Hillsong United’s “Of Dirt and Grace” is on heavy rotation and it is deeply impacting me.
- For years, I have paid attention to my mind right before bed and just as I wake up. I am continuing to be mindful of when my mind is churning or when I wake up feeling the pressure to respond to emails etc. Again, just simple intentional habit of being non productive and instead using those anxieties and triggers to pray and hand them to God.
- I’ll be maintaining my habit of bi annual retreat, days of reflection. I’ve been practicing those for over a decade. You can read more about that here.
Not a revolution by any means, but hopefully a significant placard raised in protest to the aspects of our culture that suppress our soul’s appetite for God. The rest of the world has us utterly licked in this regard. We truly are the most pressured, rapid paced culture today and our souls are paying the price.
Got any particular practices that help? I’d love to hear them