Many years ago, when I was still single, I bought a piece of lakefront property in Upper Michigan. Somewhat remote, the property is on a quiet lake, without many neighbors. It’s still undeveloped, filled with trees and a few cranberries. Maybe a retirement project? Or maybe not.
In the search for the property, I told the realtor that I was looking for something isolated and “out of the way.” Something away from people. And then I acknowledged that it didn’t sound good for a pastor to want to be away from people.
“No,” she said, “You are around people all the time. You need a ‘get-away.’”
I suppose that is true. Even Jesus did that several times (Mark 6:30-32 and Luke 6:12-13, for example). A “get-away.” A place of renewal and restoration. A place of “sabbath.” A place to “sabbatical.”
So is that what sabbath and sabbatical are about? Getting away from people? (Spoiler alert – several weeks ago I noted that my reflections might show up again in my first sermon back on August 24/25 – that might just be true this week too!) Certainly that is part of the expectation. I take my sabbatical and “retreat” away from both work and community. After all, doesn’t “absence make the heart grow fonder?”
Perhaps, but maybe it’s a bit more complicated than simply “getting away.” Perhaps sabbath and sabbatical are, in fact, very connected to people, but in in a way we might not expect.
This past week we traveled – Wausau, Gladstone, Frankenmuth (MI), London (ON), Buffalo, Chicago. We left last Sunday, and returned yesterday. We hit a bunch of places, but weren’t really sightseeing. We were “people” seeing.
Here’s who we saw:
Two aunts, one 93, the other 100, to hear family stories…
Two colleagues and families who like us, have moved on to new calls…
Two different close friends from years past…
A former Bishop and his wife…
A group of folk from Gladstone…
The text study group we used to meet with…
A niece and her son, whom we have not seen much over the years…
People. Important people. And relationships that are valued (at least by us!) The trip was long, and a bit tiring – we traveled seven of the eight days – yet also rewarding and renewing in its own way.
But wait – there’s more! Twice, we also had a twist in our encounters with people. Wednesday night (well, early Thursday morning), the cell phone blared out an “Amber Alert.” A two year old, and presumably her father, were missing. No, we didn’t encounter them. But I’ve wondered, not about the safety of a child (though that is a concern), but of the fractured and broken family that led to a father abducting his child. A lot has gone wrong in that family. People are really hurting!
And then Saturday evening, just before midnight, the fire alarm emptied our hotel. The building, five floors, was booked, and now guests were all over the parking lot. People – lots of them. But also people in service. A young lady (a guest) held the door open for us (and others) as we excited from the fire escape.
Then firemen arrived – four engines worth – to serve and rescue. The good news? False alarm! But they were there nonetheless.
And finally, as we re-entered the building, there was the same front desk personnel who checked us in hours earlier. When she checked us in, the phone was ringing constantly. I thought then how busy she was. Little did we know…not the night on the job she had been expecting!
So there you go – lots of people over one week, with a variety of lives, and a multitude of concerns. Lots connecting, hurting, and serving. And a high “burn out over people” potential.
Yet also the potential to be renewed. Remember? Even Jesus took time out.
Connecting with people, even good, affirming connections, can be draining. We interact, we “give and take,” and we sometimes conflict with others. All part of relationships.
And then other times we see folk in need, or in service, or just around us. That too can wear us down a bit.
Yet…Jesus took time out, Jesus went off by himself. And why? So he could come back to the community. Jesus went off in order to come back. In other words, “time out” is for the purpose of “time in.”
But wait (remember!), there’s more. This isn’t just about getting away so we can be built back up, only to be worn down again. This time of sabbath or sabbatical (for me, at least), has also been about having the time and space to see the people around me in a (re)new(ed) light.
Over the past weeks I’ve occasionally bumped into folk from Our Saviors, and I’ve treasured those moments. People I know and love, people I look forward to seeing again…soon.
However…there have been more…like those who served us when a fire alarm went off, and those who served food and drink at restaurants when we traveled…the officer who checked out our passports as we re-entered the country from Canada…friends and family whom we visited…and even a child and father on the run (and perhaps a mother in distress?)
Some warm and fuzzy stories, others not quite, but all people, whose lives have intersected mine. Part of sabbatical, part of my “sabbath” has been to see those folk as gifts of God. And that alone is renewing.
So, over the next few weeks I’ll continue with my projects, and get a bit more reading done. Maybe even another nap or two. I’ll return then, refreshed, and ready to engage in ministry, and encounter a wide variety of lives – broken and troubled, energetic and enthused, growing and seeking, and maybe a few lives at a pivotal moment in their journey. Those encounters may drain me a bit, but I’ve had this time to get ready, to be renewed.
But most of all, I’ve had this time to be reminded of the gift that each one is to me. And that makes for a really deep, profound, and meaningful “sabbatical!”