Kristi and I are on Day Ten of our thirty day Sabbatical, which I described in the devotional I wrote just before we started: “Our First Sabbatical (Why Pastors Need This)”. With the help of Michael Ann, Soul Shepherding’s Administrative Assistant, I’m sharing with you an update, which for me is meant to be a simple journal entry. I hope God will use it to speak to you in some way and we sure appreciate your prayers!
Each day for us is a Sabbath to the Lord, a day to set aside work and productivity in order to rest in God’s provision and pray. We’re getting plenty of sleep, usually eight to nine hours a night, but we’re always in bed resting at least that long. Each morning we linger in bed quietly to pray and meditate on Scripture.
We’re going through a guide I wrote based on The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola that’s called Thirty Days With Jesus. Each day we devote at least two hours to meditate on Scripture passages, spiritual readings, and prayer experiences. Additionally, each day we “process” together our feelings, struggles, and questions; we’re taking turns listening to and praying for the other. Also we have a spiritual director that we’re sharing with individually twice per week.
We’re are having fun too, though that is not part of Ignatius’ 16th Century program! We’ve taken slow walks at the lake by our house, including enjoying a picnic at concert one evening, watched a romantic movie, explored Palos Verdes where the retreat center is, connected with friends, and we’ve eaten dinner out at restaurants. Also one day I took a long hike/jog to the ocean and back.
The Hardest Part of Sabbatical For Me
So far during my Sabbatical I’m getting a deeper realization of something I’ve known for many years: “work” is very pernicious for me (and Type A’s like me and people in ministry generally). As a spiritual teacher there are always ideas to work on in so I can teach others. As a pastor and counselor there are always more people who need my care. As an active servant of the Lord there is always more ministry to be done. And at home, there are always projects in my house and yard that call for my attention!
If I “lose myself” in ministry or a project then it takes me out of the easy yoke of Jesus, which is the perpetual Sabbath rest of God that we’re designed to live and work from. At such times Kristi tells me, “Bill, your relational centers are off — I miss you!”
Because I’m not working on Sabbatical— also I’m not activating or exciting myself by going through email or social media (except to connect with family) and I’m limiting the time I spend reading — lots of emotions are coming up for me! I’m distressingly more aware of my temptations, sins, weaknesses, and other struggles. Intense self-reflection and confession is a main focus in the Spiritual Exercises and I can tell you it’s working! If I didn’t have Kristi’s daily empathy and prayers, along with the intercessions of family and friends, I wouldn’t be able to endure this, much less find joy in it!
A Prayer That’s Helping Me
The last two mornings I’ve been using the ancient Jesus Prayer as a Breath Prayer while I linger in bed. I’m using it to watch and pray in anticipation of temptations to come during the day:
Breathing in slow and deep to receive from God… Breathing out to let go…
Inhaling as I pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me…”
Exhaling as I confess, “…a sinner.”
I keep repeating this prayer to rest in Christ. Then I change up the words, using the same breathing-prayer pattern or putting my trust in the mercy of Christ and renouncing my sin or fault:
- “I need your mercy Jesus… I renounce my striving to be productive.
- “Lord, thank you for your cross… I release to you my vain striving.”
- “Yes, mercy… No, pride.”
May the mercy of God guide you into a deeper experience of Sabbath rest that helps you learn to live and work freely and lightly in Jesus’ easy-yoke-rhythms-of-grace (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV and MSG).
For help planning and getting the most out of your sabbatical, check out our Sabbatical Guide. It is our hope at Soul Shepherding that through our resources you would find encouragement and tools to help you receive fully, all that God has for you.
We also offer an online Sabbatical Guide course. This program has everything you need to experience rest and renewal on your Sabbatical.