September 7, 2023

This is the third in a series of collective thoughts from my sabbatical. And if you’re following along (and I hope you are), you know that I failed to post this past week. I totally forgot! And how appropriate for that mistake – nah, mishap – to follow my perfection posts. It’s nuts over here, and reminded me, yet again, that personal best is good enough, and perfection is an illusion.

You also will remember that I had an agenda for my sabbatical. Most of us do when we plan and enter sabbatical. There are expectations, particularly if you are on payroll of a church or non-profit, that the sabbatical/break will be used for pursuits that require particular attention or training. Now, I am not on anyone’s payroll. But, I did have an agenda. I am a planner, and a perfectionist, and I have had this book rolling around in my head for several years. I wanted and needed dedicated time to make it happen. That was the expectation. My expectation. It seemed a fair one, to be honest, even in hindsight.

I never asked myself about how I would feel if I did not meet that goal. I never wondered about how I would feel if my expectations weren’t met. It never occurred to me to ask myself. After all, I could not afford to fail. I was taking time away from marrying couples, so time was, indeed, money. I needed to be productive so that I could justify my time off. To whom? I am now not sure. Again, I never thought to ask.

Our society, puritanical at its very core, is work-oriented. The American dream is built on the idea that work means success. And success is measurable productivity. And productivity yields personal satisfaction. Humans are understood to be economic animals. I grew up in this environment, and admit that I am still prone to feeling good at the end of a “productive” day, and guilty if the day goes off the rails. However, what happens when work does not translate to success? Or when productivity does not yield personal satisfaction? And most importantly, when one realizes humans are not merely economic animals?

My “unproductive” sabbatical forced me to re-evaluate my expectations, and adjust my thinking. I simply wasn’t meeting my set goals. So I had to sit in that, and ask myself, “Now what?”

And after some time and some conversations, “what” became “rest.” Could I, a Type A, Enneagram “One,” accept rest as a legitimate goal? Was rest legitimate? Is rest legitimate? Was rest productive? Is it productive? Can rest be an agenda item? Maybe the only agenda item? And if so, could I accept that? Because that’s what sabbatical was for me: rest. Maybe I didn’t like that fact. Maybe it failed to meet my expectations. But it was the truth. And this is worth stating: I may not like the truth sometimes, but the truth is the truth.

It’s rather odd that we shame and devalue rest in this society. After all, it is woven into the fabric of the universe. It’s biological. It’s ecological. It’s cultural. It’s scriptural. And yet, we (particularly in the West and particularly in the United States) call it lazy. Unproductive. Neglectful. Or all of the above. Yet, study after study shows that regular rest yields better health, better productivity, healthier people, happier societies. I’ve read a lot of these studies and revisited some literature on sabbath all in a quest to soothe myself over the rest I took (or was served up on a silver platter, no questions asked).

It’s fascinating, really. Science (the Webb telescope) is offering us real-life glimpses into a universe both busy and empty. Ecologically, farmers and ranchers are learning to “rest” their land. Socially, meditation practices are entering mainstream conversations via easily accessible (and non-denominational) apps. Trends such as quiet quitting and the expansion of sabbaticals point to not just a desire to structure more rest into our lives, but actually create it. And on the flip side, overworked environments and people are creating a hostile, new world: wild weather patterns, stressed ecosystems, divisive and violent societies, and a heightened sense of scarcity and individualism. Sure, we can make funny memes about angry whales, increased volcanic activity, and “Karens,” but at the core of those memes is the realization that something (maybe more than just one thing) is terribly wrong, and terribly out of balance. Maybe revisiting rest is overdue.

As I’ve said, this series is misnamed. Lessons implies that I have some takeaway – like a book or a year’s worth of blogs. But the truth of this series for me – and maybe even for you, dear reader – is that there may be no lessons, no eureka moment, no goal achieved, or level unlocked. There may only be winter. Quiet. Stillness. Rest. Sabbath.