The Gift Of Sabbatical Is Made Real In Community
Recently, I came off of a 6 month sabbatical from my on-campus work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Every 7 years of ministry, staff are invited to step away from their day-to-day ministry to rest, reflect, study, and find deeper connection with Jesus.
As I enter back into work serving graduate students at Arizona State University and in the southwest, I wanted to gather my thoughts about the gift of sabbatical; both what its meant for me but also how it's changing the way that I think about ministry heading back to campus.
The goodness of rest
Both in the workplace and the university, our lives are often made sense of in terms of production and output. Our ability to produce is the metric that matters most to the majority of the institutions we ever connect with as humans.
The research, the papers, the presentations, the sales, the ideas, and on and on and on.
Rest. Sabbath. Sabbatical. These are rejections of the idea that as humans, we are what we produce. The goodness of rest is that it liberates humanity out of the endless cycle of production and invites us into restorative flourishing.
A working definition of "presence"
I was deeply moved at the concept of "presence" during my time on sabbatical. I found myself thinking about moments of honest human connection, and how my "best moments of ministry" were often moments where I just said 'yes' to being available to what was happening around me. That a lot of the time, I just sorta, showed up.
In that showing up, I've thought a lot about presence. Like, how do you even define that?
The best I could come up with is this: Presence is the kind of showing-up where you stumble into a moment of deep need that another person is experiencing, and you weren't planning on that, but you're here now, and you've got to make a choice about whether or not you'll be there with them in whatever it is they're living through. You find yourself confronted with the pain, sorrow, joy, confusion, or wonder of another person. You've stumbled into their very real human-ness and the only proper response is to share your human-ness. I think that's presence.
The moments where people are connected, listening, giving, receiving often grow into moments that are transformative, holy, and sacred— if we're open.
It seems like this is something God honors: when we are present to one another, when we are emotionally hospitable to the person across from us, God is at work.
What happens if the key metric for a ministry is not attendance, but presence? If the question shifts from "how many people were there" to "how available were you to the people around you?"
I'm starting to think all we can really offer to one another is our presence. People connecting with people, in the service of one another and in the hope of connecting with the God of everything.
The gift of sabbatical is made real in community
It would be easy to place the experience of sabbatical (or any deep rest for that matter) in the realm of self-care. While this isn't untrue, I'm not sure it's the whole picture.
The rest, healing, learning, and reflecting that we experience is meant to be given back to others in a substantive and integrative way. They must be experiences that are both uniquely real to the individual and passed on to the community. The gifts of sabbatical only take root in a real, embodied community, with real, physical people.
Sabbatical is not a journey of self-exploration solely for the benefit for the individual. It a gift that is given, that grows more valuable as it is lived into, and that realizes its true purpose as those lessons are passed on to the ones we serve and love. The gift of sabbatical, like any gift or blessing, is made real in community.