At the risk of sounding a little more dramatic than usual, the start to sabbatical for me has had distinct similarities to the sensation of jumping off a very high diving board into very deep water. Or jello or something. It feels like moving toward the surface for air, but through a viscous, resistant matter. I can kind of see the light at the top, but the present is surreal and a little scary. Okay, a lot.
It feels like being dunked under.
Which is kind of appropriate, as Sunday we celebrated baptism in worship. In fact, the whole day was quite a start to sabbatical, with a packed worship service, emotional sermon, wonderful new members, sabbatical blessing, church anniversary luncheon and program, and a memorial service in the afternoon. To jump head-first, then, into this strange nothingness called sabbatical has been at a minimum weird but also, honestly, a little fear-inducing . . . like strong strokes in deep, dark water to reach air.
This is, I suppose, part of why pastors should take sabbaticals.
I suppose it’s too easy for us to forget who we are aside from the constant demands of very wonderful people who need us. While it’s heady to feel needed, that need can start small and manageable and grow and grow and grow until it fills up a room—or a life—and threatens to suffocate.
The potentially dangerous piece of this phenomenon, I can already begin to see, is that living life at the intense pace of constant spiritual demand does not allow for accurate assessment of our own boundaries.
Or mental health. Or priorities. Or lots of other stuff.
And, you know it’s probably something to look at when you wake up one morning the first day of sabbatical and find yourself feeling a little fearful of empty time . . . this time without preoccupation with the needs of others.
I feel uncertain and unfamiliar with the individual advocacy involved in swimming toward the surface. I’ve been caught under many waves and know the feeling of intensive focus on reaching air—to the exclusion of other concerns like your surfboard or even your swimsuit. I know I have to do this alone, and I know I have to do it for my own life.
But that makes me scared, too.
I never do anything alone. One of the lynchpins of my faith is the theology of community; I am first to quote Dorotheos of Gaza to anyone who will listen. He liked to talk about the world as a circle in whose center is God and on the edge of the circle are human lives: “Imagine now that there are straight lines connecting from the outside of the circle all human lives to God at the center. Can’t you see that there is no way to move toward God without drawing closer to other people, and no way to approach other people without coming near to God?” In other words, as an extrovert I prefer to be playing volleyball in the pool with the whole gang, say, rather than swimming toward the surface just so I can breathe. I feel the need for community with others profoundly and deeply.
But community can become an excuse, I hate to say . . .an excuse to avoid the questions that only come up in the dark moments of solitary contemplation. And it’s probably about time for me to take a step back and make sure I’m in the pool because I want to be there . . . that I’m not just jumping in to try to save the whole entire world singlehandedly (as if I could).
The good thing about all this fear and uncertainty is that they are tangible reminders of the things that bring life. God . . . who is here, even when I don’t have outside affirmation at my fingertips or when the voices of others are not there to do the work that I should be doing for myself.
Swimming up toward air . . . the first task of sabbatical reflection.
I want to surface soon.