Monday, July 2, 2012


Today marks the beginning of my two month leave of absence, which I am calling a sabbatical.  Some of you may be wondering what a sabbatical is; others of you may be wondering why I am taking one.  In the last few months, I have pondered both of those questions myself, as I prepared for this time.  Allow me to share some of my thoughts and findings.
The word sabbatical has, at its root, the word sabbath, meaning "cease."  We often think of Sabbath as meaning rest, but my pastor explained it to me that it literally means cease - to stop.  One of the ten commandments given to us is to "remember the sabbath by keeping it holy, six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a sabbath to the Lord your God...on it you shall not do any work...for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).  In Leviticus, we are told that the land is to also have a sabbath of rest, every seven years, for a whole year.., so that it can lie fallow and replenish (Leviticus 25: 2-4)

A sabbatical is a time for rest, renewal, and new hope.  A time to stop what you normally do - to stop the normal routine.  It should help us to step off the treadmill long enough to change old habits.  It is a time to lie fallow, a time to receive rather than give, to get input rather than give output, to carefully nurture and cultivate our lives.  It should nourish the soul and rebuild the body.  It is a time to relearn and rehearse the critical capacity to reflect.  A sabbatical is about a pilgrimage with Jesus toward God.  The heart of the sabbatical is time and space for renewal.  A sabbatical is typically recommended to be three-six months.

About a year ago, someone gave me an article on the alarming growth of burn out among pastors and missionaries.  This article acknowledged that churches give both time and funding for sabbaticals for pastors, while mission agencies do not yet provide in the same way.  One missionary organization who is starting to look at providing sabbaticals for their missionaries, says this, 
Missionaries continually face heavy responsibilities and the stressful weight of local and world conditions. Their temptation is to “suck it up” by drawing upon emotional and spiritual reserves with no regular spiritual practices to replenish those reserves.  The result: depleted souls, physical and emotional exhaustion, and often burnout!
Another organization conducted a survey and reported that only 26% of missionaries view their relationship with God as one of their top strengths.  I have felt the drain of my reserves over the years, and specifically in the last two years, since Bob's death.  I need my top strength to be my relationship with God, as with Him I can do all things - without Him, I can do nothing.

So, after seven years of being in West Africa, I am declaring these two months to be my sabbatical - an intentional time of receiving input, lying fallow, and reflecting.  I plan to go on a silent retreat, read a lot of books that will spur reflection, meet with some people who have mentored me over the years, spend time in nature, and write.

Not all of my time will be in Sabbatical mode though.  The other result of being on the field is having to be away from family for many occasions and challenges.  So I will be spending time with Bob's parents, who have had some serious medical challenges in this past year; as well as with my parents - my father is in a nursing home and I've only been able to see him once in the past three years.  I look forward to spending some quality time with them and make up for some lost time.

Making the decision to take a Sabbatical was not easy.  I am very thankful to a group of praying partners who recommended that I do this.  Their encouragement was that this is not only necessary for Renita, but also for the future of any work that God will call me to. On Sunday night I met with this faithful group of prayer partners and advisers who helped me to "kick off" this time and they will hold me accountable to make sure that I use my time wisely.  They have already helped me to course correct in some ways and reminded me of the need to cease, to listen, and to be patient.  I am truly thankful for their input, wisdom, and prayers.
 “I have come to think that the recovery of the Sabbath is the most crucial and most demanding covenant command (spiritual discipline) now to be faced in the technological society.”  Walter Brueggemann.
Part of my sabbatical will also be from this blog and other technology.  So I am signing off and ceasing the blog for two months - over and out until September!