Learning to lay down
You will probably have heard by now that I am taking my first sabbatical later this year. My last Sunday will be on 1 July and I will return to work on Monday 1 October. In the United Reformed Church, Ministers are allowed to take a three-month sabbatical on completion of every 10-years of full-time service. As this summer marks the 10th anniversary of my ordination, having a sabbatical provides a poignant opportunity for me to reflect on ministry (and life) over the last decade.
The word sabbatical, as you’ve probably already gathered, derives from the Hebrew word shabbat or Sabbath, meaning ‘day of rest’. The Greek equivalent sabbatikos literally means ‘a ceasing’. I find this latter verb, to cease, particularly pertinent, and in all honesty, a little scary! How does one cease to be a Minister? Like many professions, particularly those that focus on caring for people and fostering relationships, it’s not something you can simply switch off (although the computer and mobile phone will certainly get that treatment!) Being a Minister is part of who I am, so if the concept of a sabbatical implies a cessation of my ministry, then it also implies, to some degree, a laying down of self.
I think this idea of ‘laying down’ offers a helpful metaphor for how I might approach this gift of time. When we lay down to sleep at night, though our bodies and minds cease the normal activity of our waking lives, they are far from inactive. Thousands of biological processes take place as we sleep helping to rejuvenate our bodies. The mind can be at its busiest taking our nightly downtime as a cue to sift, sort and reprioritise our psyches ready for the next day. And through all of this, even the most bizarre of dreams, you don’t stop being you; you simply exist in a different way, observing different rules, being guided by a different clock, all to help us wake feeling restored and refreshed.
Maybe the trick for me is not to think I have to cease being a Minister, but to find a different way to exist as one, if only for a time. And when I wake from my ‘day’ of rest, may I feel rejuvenated, reinvigorated and ready to take on another decade of ministry!