The Impact of a Sabbatical

This is my final post on the need for a sabbatical and how to plan one.

I said in the last post that I didn’t want my sabbatical to just be a long vacation. I wanted it to enrich me so I had a deeper well to draw from in my ministry. It would be an added bonus if my presence, wherever we traveled, could enrich others as well.

So this is what we did: I called MERGE ministries,  the short-term missions agency associated with my church denomination. I asked them for their recommendations on a country to travel to. They mentioned all of our South American ministry sites but then wondered if I’d be willing to go to Chile. Why Chile? No one seems to want to go there. It’s far away. It costs more, and once you get there, it takes hours by bus to get to wherever you want to go. That worked for me. I said “sure” and so the planning started.chile

My wife and I crafted a six-week plan that involved four parts to it:

Part One: Two weeks at a language school in Vina del Mar. Vina is a modern resort town an hour west of Santiago (capital and airport site). We stayed in the home of a local family and walked 1.5 miles to the school every day. Afternoons we shopped, ate lunch, and took walking tours. Evenings we spent studying Spanish. This was a great way to get to know the country, the customs, and the language. The “otherworldliness” of it all made it very easy to break from the reality of my life back home…especially since we left summer and entered into winter. It was a great time to reconnect with my wife and share something in common with her.

Part Two: After language school we met up with a team of five from our home church in Santiago and flew two hours north to Calama, Chile to help a church for ten days. I initially didn’t want to do anything with church people, fearing that I’d get pulled into leadership roles that would feel very “non-sabbaticalish.”  But it was one of the highlights of the trip. The intensity of relationships we shared with both our team and the local church people was fulfilling.

Part Three: This was the busiest part of the trip. I imagined casual mornings, light travel in the afternoon to a new village, and then sharing a meal with the local pastor. Not exactly. The reality was that we were on the go most of the time. Travel between cities was much farther than I realized…five to seven hours at a crack. When we arrived, the churches were so happy to see us they had special meetings for us where, guess what…they wanted me to speak!  I half expected this…so I was happy to oblige.  Being able to speak into the life of these churches was actually satisfying to me, but be careful if you don’t want to be involved in any ministry on your sabbatical. It can wear you out. Thankfully we visited some pretty amazing locations so I was always excited to see the next place. We visited Rancagua, Concepcion, Chiloe, and Coyhaique.

Part Four: A five day vacation.  I figured that, if all else failed, I wanted to make sure I had five good days before we returned. It was the rainy season so it rained three of our five days, but we didn’t care. We enjoyed staying in one place. I’m a bit of a foodie and this town (Puerto Varas) had great restaurants. I was able to get one of the nicer hotels for a good price on hotwire.com.

Did it work? Did I get the rest needed? Absolutely. I could tell about half way through the trip that it was working because when I thought about the sabbatical, tears still came to my eyes, but now they were out of gratitude. I felt like God had met me in a special way, renewed me, and prepared me to re-engage in ministry.

In reflecting on my stress and what renewed me, I think it was being immersed in something totally different. It probably didn’t matter what it was, just not feeling the need to solve a problem back home was freeing. Along those lines, it made me think back to when my kids lived at home. In some ways, I think I was less stressed with them home, which seems counterintuitive. Most of my nights are free now…but, I often end up working. When my kids were home, they helped preoccupy my time and attention, giving me a mental break I needed.

I mention this because, if you can’t get away on sabbatical, look for a way to immerse yourself in something other than your work…hopefully your family, but also a hobby of some kind or limited travel/get-aways. Get off-line and think about something totally different.

I hope this series has helped you think through the idea of stress and finding renewal. I’d love to hear back how you have found ways to find refreshing from your careers.

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