I remember after our son Jack was born. After all the sleepless nights, crying and frustrations with learning how to be parents for the first time, it was about two years in when I started to feel "human" again- back to my old self, someone I not only recognized but liked. (Of course, right around that time our second child Janie came along...)
This has been kind of like that.
For the last 2 1/2 months I've been on sabbatical. Often, in this pastoral world, after seven years it's customary to get a 2-3 month break, and the elders of Evergreen were gracious enough to offer (uh, insist on) that break to me.
The first month I think I spent somewhat numbed out- to be honest, for most of 2010 I was completely burned out. I began to recover a bit in the early parts of 2011, but there were enough challenging things happening that "recover" never really got out of 1st or 2nd gear.
So moving into sabbatical I was tired and feeling at a complete loss as to what to do with myself. I didn't have enough energy to do anything creative, so mostly I just...was. Which was great. Disney with the family, a church planters bootcamp and week at the Richmond Hill Abbey, and then just being home.
But these last few weeks of sleeping in, time with family just being together, road trips with Jack, some sunny days and now a week at a pastor's retreat house in WA have left me feeling "human" again- back to my old self, someone I not only recognize but like. At ease and at peace.
It's a good place to be.
Some things that have become clear to me during this time and in no particular order-
- "Let your life speak"- This phrase comes from Parker Palmer's book of the same name. I've been reading it this last week, and while a good chunk of it describes his journey through depression, much of it is devoted to themes of vocation and discernment. It's been clarifying and catalytic for me to read during this time, and to begin to learn to listen to what my life (and God thru my life) has been saying to me during this last few years. When we're young, we don't know who we are or frankly, how we've been put together (by God thru both biology, gifting and experience) and so have no idea what we're being formed for and called to. In the earlier parts of life I think I had the time and energy, the luxury to move in many directions, experiment, and bang my head against certain things even if some of them felt forced. At this stage, I'm feeling more and more like it's important to begin to narrow, to specialize and to focus on what I'm formed for and on what is forming of me in good ways so as to make Act 2, the second half, a focused and productive time in my life. And on that note...
- "Move away from your pathology"- this phrase is something my spiritual director Morris said to me recently and it's very much stuck in my brain. As the Gambler taught us, you got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em, and that means there are things that are very much worth the struggle and fighting thru to master. There are other things that eventually you just have to say "I'm trying to force something here" or "I think this will always be a trigger/a place of weakness/a shortcoming for me" and just move away from them. I know for me, certain areas of ministry and life in general are like this. While I'd still like to learn some new things and master some other things that have continued to get the best of me, I think the next season in life will be a narrowing of focus, a leaning into strengths and a leaving behind of what hasn't been working. Still thinking and praying thru what all that will mean.
- Connection to my family that has hit a new level needs to be maintained. For me, church planting and parenting came simultaneously- Jack was born the month before we officially "launched" evergreen, so the two have always co-existed. This has been my first crack at being a parent while not being a pastor, and I've loved it. Yeah, I've gone a little stir-crazy and needed to get out of the house and away from it all at times, but all in all, I feel as though during this time I've been able to get a taste of (and a taste for) something that I plan to move heaven and earth to keep. Again, not sure what that will mean in terms of schedule, but I know that I've hit a place inwardly with my wife and kids I'm not going to want to let go of.
All in all, I feel an energy and strength I haven't felt in years. And more, a desire to jump back into the pieces of ministry that are life-giving for me and where I see the most bang for buck in terms of what it brings to others and to begin to explore and arrange for other possibilities in the areas that aren't life-giving and where my efforts don't yield the kind of fruit I'd like to see.
Coming into the home stretch of this sabbatical (if I may wax psychologic for a minute) I feel a lot of ego integrity and self-differentiation- which is just a fancy way of saying, I feel much less tied to what people think of me and much happier about where I am, who I am and able to make choices and decisions based on the latter and not the former. Some of that comes with feeling more organically connected to God (relationship without the added ingredients of ministry study, preaching, etc), some comes from just finally feeling rested and human again, able to begin lift my eyes off of the urgent to-do's right in front of me and look at the horizon and dream a little...
I'm also thinking about growing a mustache. A big Three Dog Night kind of deal.
Anyone have any thoughts? :)