My Time Away - Part 1
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place (Mark 6:30-32)
I love this scripture because it gives us a look at the apostles and their service to the people, and Jesus’ observations of the apostles as they served. As tthey triaged the needs of the people to determine how they would help each person, Jesus quietly triaged the apostles and discerned that were in need as well. He says to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Recently God spoke similar words to me. My blog posts over the next few days will chronicle my sabbatical of June 2017. By definition a sabbatical is paid leave granted to teachers for college study or to pastors for a time of reflection and replenishing. My leave wasn’t a paid leave; it was sacrificial. Calling it a sabbatical is just easier to explain to those who ask. God is doing much shifting in the atmosphere. I believe He wants me to share and be transparent about my time away from service and ministry to help someone who may be struggling with what God is instructing them to do in this season. I am a little hesitant to share because transparency can be taken out of context and misinterpreted. But out of obedience, I write.
During Lenten Season 2017, I participated in a 40 Day Surrender Fast. For 40 days, I had to surrender something that was hindering my walk with Christ. I read a daily devotion and answered questions. I also scheduled time to pray with a prayer partner each day. It was during the 40 Day Surrender Fast that God revealed to me that in the eleven years I had been licensed (now ordained) as a minister, I'd never taken any significant time away from ministry. As I thought about it, I reduced my ministry workload over the years, even while pursuing various degrees, but never had I completely stepped away from ministry.
Truthfully, I was under the impression that I couldn’t take a sabbatical because I am not a pastor. I have only seen or heard of pastors taking sabbaticals. Associate clergy that I knew of who had taken time away did so because of personal reasons, or because they were at a point where they were contemplating walking away from ministry altogether. I didn’t neatly fit into these categories so I continued to serve. But after eleven years I had grown weary. God was letting me know that it was time to step away.
So, after praying and informing my pastor of my plans I did just that! I logged off social media, put my phone on “Do Not Disturb,” and did not open or respond to any emails during this time. I even took some time away from home life. I was fortunate enough to go away to North Carolina for two out of the four weeks that I was away. My sister opened her home to me for two week. There that I had my own room and space, and much time to reflect and talk with God.
I needed this time away. Much had occurred in eleven years that required me to take a step back. Much transition was happening around me. Much had changed within me. My position was eliminated. last year, and I have been seriously seeking full-time employment to no avail. Our daughter is in her senior year of college. Our son is in his senior year of high school, so my husband and I will be empty nesters soon. I've been asking, "God, what's next? What are you calling me to at this juncture in life?” Silence has been the answer to this question. Even in ministry, I was sensing a shift. I grew tired of the routine of serving and service. You may call it having a mid-life crisis; I call it evolving.
God showed me my progression in ministry over the years, and now I was wondering, questioning even, my call. I found myself asking God, “Is my calling the same as it was when I began? I know the call is irrevocable, but can it evolve? What am I called to do? Where do you want me? What area(s) do you want to use my giftings? Is there more that you are requiring of me?” My desire to minister beyond the four walls of the church was increasing. God gave me a ministry for associate ministers and leaders, and I hosted my first conference this year. But I still felt God’s tugging - that there was more to do. There were more people to reach. They needed relief from their pain, hurt, and dysfunction. And the more I asked these questions, the more I heard the Holy Spirit saying, “People need Jesus!”
In the routine of serving we see the physical needs of the people. They need food. They need clothes. They need rent money. They need transportation. They need help. They need direction. But at the heart of the matter, what is really needed is transformation. A renewed mind. A new heart. A right spirit. Transformation happens only through an encounter with Jesus. Unfortunately as leaders, we often miss our encounter with Jesus because we are too busy serving when we may need to sit and be still. We need Jesus too! You may think this is a moot point, but it's not. We have mistaken service for relationship and meetings for devotional time with God.
There are times when we need to come apart so that we don’t feed into the notion that what the people need is us. I’m reminded of the Canaanite Woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon. The disciples were so caught up in the hype of ministry and serving that they said, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us” (Matthew 15:23). But she wasn’t crying after the disciples; she was crying after Jesus. Sometimes when you’ve been in the trenches too long your perception of your importance can become skewed. What is needed is a removal from the familiar to help us to see the bigger picture with fresh eyes.
God allowed several things to take place during my time away. The first thing He allowed was rest. Time away allowed me to turn myself off to the constant barrage of being accessible and needed. I needed rest physically and mentally. I didn’t know how tired I was until I was out of my day to day environment and routine. I must be honest, it felt good to just rest. It felt good not be needed in any capacity. It felt good to not be called on or on call or have to move. No phone calls. No emails. No funerals to attend. No hospitable visits. No church attendance. No one saying my name (for the most part). At first it was difficult to just sit. I had become so accustomed to being on the move that rest and sitting felt foreign. Sometimes we fall into a mode of busyness that God has not ordained. God never intended for His creation to be in a constant state of movement. I don’t understand why we think we can keep going non-stop. Even God rested, and we are not greater than God!
Pride plays into the notion of not being able to sit and be still because, of course, "they" need us. "It" won’t get done right if we don’t do it. But this is a lie. Ministry goes on with or without our presence. The Holy Spirit still speaks in our absence! The truth of the matter is admitting that we need to sit and be still is admitting that we have limitations. We can’t do it all. We suffer from physical and mental exhaustion. Spiritually, we have nothing to offer because we’re empty. Sitting forces us to deal with some things that we may not ready to deal with, but need to be dealt with in order to be emotionally healthy and function effectively. So, if God is calling you to a season of sitting, sit! Take time away. Allow your mind to rest so you can hear what God is saying.
Taking time away from ministry is the best thing I have done in a long time! If you are in ministry and have never taken significant time away to regroup, I encourage it! Now that I have experienced it, I will definitely do it again.
Just as Jesus told the apostles to "Come apart" He instructs us to do the same. In our time of solitude with God, we will find rest for our souls.
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).