“Spend the Gift Card Already! OR “Why I Found it Hard to Accept a Four Month Sabbatical”

sabbatical

Last fall I had to face a conflicting reality in my life:  I would soon be eligible for a four month Sabbatical. Our church has a policy that after a number of years of continuous work, pastors can apply for a extended time of leave to learn, refresh and recharge.  This year, my time had come.

Now, I know I should have seen this is good news, which I mostly did.  But I also struggled. What would I DO for four months? My kids would be in school and my husband would still be working.  How would I fill the hours between dropping my kids off at school and picking them up again? I joked about being one of those movie cliche moms who picks her kids up from school in workout gear and talks about HOW BUSY she is planning for the school bake sale.  But, like, seriously. I don’t even OWN workout clothes. And planning a bake sale is far from a full time job (at least not the way I’d run a bake sale…).

Plus, I wasn’t supposed to just hang out for four months (was I???).

And I had to do SOMETHING (didn’t I?).

And I had to do things that were USEFUL! (Right??) 

I wasn’t really sure, but my Sabbatical proposal was due to my board for approval six months ahead of time, so last fall, whether I liked it or not, I had to get cracking.  I began by doing what I always do in seasons of uncertainty.

I started making lists.

  • I could go on a missions trip. (But where?  On my own? For how long? If only my husband was off as well!)
  • I could take courses. (Which ones?  From where? Summer school schedules didn’t come out until the winter!).
  • I could do a big project!  (What project? For whom? Why?  How? When?)

I know, it seems ridiculous, but last fall thinking about Sabbatical made me more anxious than excited.  Still, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. And that meant I had to come up with a proposal.

The list hadn’t helped much. I realized I needed others to help me hear from God on this one, so I decided to do something I had suggested to many people over the last few years when they felt stuck in a decision.  I gathered a “wisdom circle.”

A “wisdom circle” basically involves gathering a few people that can help you seek God’s wisdom in your life. There is a process to go through where the person looking for wisdom shares what they are dealing with, and there is time for feedback. In my case, I started by sharing all my Sabbatical woes, my list of ideas and my lack of clarity.  Then the group sat in silence for a couple of minutes. After this, the group shared what they heard me say. No commentary. No advice – just telling me what stood out to them from my own words. Then there was more silence. I shared again. More silence. Then the group shared what my story evoked in them – what they noticed and found themselves thinking about as I spoke. The point of this whole process is to help me listen to what God might be saying to me. 

As I shared my scattered thoughts,  my group kept telling me the same thing: “I hear that you’re worried.” “I hear that you’re anxious.” “I hear that you feel like you have to get this perfect.”  “I hear that you are trying to get Sabbatical JUST RIGHT.”

They were definitely listening.

Then one friend made this comment:  “Sometimes people give me gift cards.  When I get a gift card I almost always end up carrying it around for months or even years.  Why? I want to get the PERFECT thing and I’m afraid if I spend it too soon I’ll regret what I buy.  I feel like you’re treating your Sabbatical like an unused gift card.  You’re afraid you’ll spend it on the wrong thing.”

Hmmm.

If there was a nail in the room, I knew he was hitting it on the head.

I was worried, yes.  I was a perfectionist, yes. But I was also scared.  

I didn’t want to misspend my gift card.

That’s when I realized that spending a gift card is always a little risky. You might order a meal you don’t like at the restaurant and wish you’d ordered something different.  You might buy something and later wish you’d gotten something else. But the thing about a gift card is that it IS a gift. You’re not somehow “less” after you use it if you spend it in a less than perfect way.  And no one gives you a gift card wanting it to cause you worry – it’s meant to be a GIFT, something that brings joy!

I realized God was telling me not to let this “Sabbatical gift card” sit in my wallet because I was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect.  God was inviting me to receive a gift, and it was time for me to spend it.

A few days later, I handed in a proposal to my board. I said that I wanted to take some courses, read, study and travel.  I hoped to take time to visit other churches and pastors and learn things from them that would help us as a church.  I said I would let myself rest, and make space to hear from God in ways my schedule doesn’t always allow.   After I handed it in and the board approved it, I admit that it seemed funny that it had felt like such a big deal. 

My first day of Sabbatical was one week ago. Funny enough, it ended up being a SNOW DAY – definitely a little reminder that I can in no way predict what my Sabbatical will hold! I decided to take my kids to Indigo. In my wallet, I had several Indigo gift cards, there since my birthday in January.  

And you know what I did?

I SPENT THEM.

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