This is the letter I shared with my congregation in June 2016 before taking a four month sabbatical:
Since my sabbatical was announced earlier this year, I have been asked dozens of times—by people within our congregation and outside it as well—“What are your plans?” It is only in the past few weeks that I have finally grown comfortable answering, “My plan is to have no plans.”
The temptation to fill my four months off with “plans”—conferences, classes, travel—has been strong. Surely someone with four months of free time will make plans! Will fill that time to the brim with activity! Will load up on all the things there’s never time for!
Since the moment I decided to apply to seminary in early 2008, my life has been a non-stop succession of goals, deadlines, and reading lists. Even now, in my fourth year of settled ministry, I find it challenging to read for pleasure, and my study time is spent reading what I need for sermon preparation. My deadlines are Sundays and meetings and responding to what people need from me. There is almost no spaciousness. There is little room for curiosity, for interest, for spiritual exploration.
It is a great blessing to me that our Spirit Study topic this year has been voluntary simplicity, and that I have preached time and again these past 10 months on the importance of slowing down, doing less, and resisting our cultural pressure to do more, more, more. As is often the case, the preacher gives the sermon she needs to hear.
From the spaciousness of slowing down and doing less, I expect my sabbatical time to allow me to:
- Let my intellectual and spiritual curiosity guide my study and reflection
- Re-discover my appreciation for arts and beauty
- Pause and let the events of the eight years—the decision to become a minister and all that has followed—catch up to who and where I am now
Father Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang rehab and re-entry program. In a February 2016 interview with FaithandLeadership.com, Father Boyle commented that ministry aimed at saving people and the world instead leads to burnout. “Our choice always is the same: save the world or savor it. And I vote for savoring it. And, just because everything is about something else, if you savor the world, somehow—go figure—it’s getting saved.”
I so appreciate this insight from someone who has concretely done so much to save the world.
My hope is that my sabbatical time is spent savoring the world, and that when I return in November, I may bring with me a renewed commitment to working at a sustainable pace, and to finding ways to continue to savor the world as together we work on saving it.
My first Sunday back in the pulpit will be November 6. My sermon that day will share with you what I learned and experienced during my sabbatical time. I am well aware that this time off is a privilege that most working people are not afforded. Like a traveler who returns from a little-visited land, I hope to share with you the gifts and lessons of my journey. Perhaps my experiences will inspire others of you to find a way to make such a trip of self-exploration yourself some day.