Why sabbatical?

Telling people about my sabbatical has been fascinating.

Friends and family will start with excitement, but then immediately ask when I’m going back to work.

And I usually say something annoyingly noncommittal like, probably in 8-12 months. I’m not quite sure yet, but I’m taking at least eight months off.

Partly, I don’t know what will unfold during this time, and I want to allow for the mystery of allowing for something I can’t foresee. I might take some project work, but that’s about it.

This creates some confusion. So they ask, your job is okay with you just being gone for that long? Because there are rules, lots of rules in the lives we lead. And this seems like a trick.

No, I left my job.

Then it’s usually something like what my neighbor said to me, “oh, so you’re not really on sabbatical, you’re just calling it that.”

Not quite. No, this is a sabbatical. But then they are in for a pretty long-winded explanation.

Culturally, I get that. Sabbatical in western cultures is common in an academic setting, but not so much in a corporate one.

In a corporate context, it can look a lot like it did at my former firm. After seven years, they offered six paid weeks off for sabbatical. In Europe, that’s just called a decent holiday.

Other corporations offer some longer form of sabbatical time. Starbucks, for example, allows for a “coffee break” after 10 years of service—six months unpaid with a guaranteed job on your return. I think that gets closer to the actual intention of sabbatical.

Sabbatical finds its roots biblically, whether we recognize it or not. And the roots are in sabbath, or shabbat—which in Hebrew mean “to stop” or “to cease [from work].” There’s also an interesting tie to the word sheva, which is “seven,” which is a biblical symbol of wholeness or completeness.

Humans and creation live in cycles—days, weeks, months, seasons, years, decades, centuries, millennia.

Every seven days for those of us who have a sabbath practice, we shabbat—we stop—and we rest and nestle in to all that’s been given. In the busyness of our modern context, it’s hard to think of stopping work, not getting ahead on email or finishing a project for a whole entire day.

But the biblical practice doesn’t stop there. Every seven years, in a continual cycle of rest and work, in the Torah, Israel is called on to take a sabbath year, a sabbatical year. It’s called the year of release.

And it’s radical. Debts are to be cancelled. Lands returned to their owners. So no one hoards too much, or accumulates too much land, or holds too much power over their brother or sister.

It is to be a sabbath year of rest for all people and for creation—Israelites, their servants, and the land.

It’s an ancient practice, and there is wisdom in it.

There is a rhythm of resting and working built in to the creative order that we ignore. And I think that’s to our detriment as humans. And who knows? Maybe even the world is crying out for us to let it rest.

Think about it: we’re supposed to let creation, all creation—the people and the land—rest every seven years. Just from an agricultural standpoint, we know the benefit of letting land rest. Letting it lie fallow allows it to regain its nutrients and strength—it increases the yield of the land. Rest brings forth a harvest.

I think it’s the same for humans. Rest reveals, it brings forth our work, lets us see more clearly the next harvest. Rest gives time and space, it creates room for presence with God and loved ones. To truly be in the moment you’re living, not with a mind racing to the deadlines and demands of work.

And rest requires trust.

Because in practicality, *you’re not working!*

How will all the ends meet?

It seems to make no sense, especially not to our understanding—where only our grit and our output provide for our lives. But tied to the sabbath year command is God’s promise to provide, and provide abundantly.

So it’s a call and a challenge to trust that God will do what He says He is going to do, that He will provide, even if we stop.

The world doesn’t spin because I work; and it doesn’t stop spinning because I stop.

It is so wildly opposite to what we’re told to value—work, productivity, drive, ambition.

We don’t live like this in the present moment. We worry about what won’t get done if we stop. Somewhere inside us, we’re afraid it all will fall apart and consequences will be catastrophic.

But I think the consequences of not stopping might be worse—anxiety, fear, apprehension, depression. The list of mental illnesses afflicting our culture are overwhelming. Not to mention a globe wracked with natural disasters and a world full of injustice.

What if we all stopped and admitted trusting in ourselves—in our human innovation, in our human wisdom—isn’t working?

And maybe considered there might be a better way. A way of wisdom for the ages.

So even if it isn’t corporately sanctioned, I’m taking a sabbatical, facing the fear of “what if” and the excitement of possibility. I’m trusting, even if I don’t always believe it, that God will do what He says He’ll do, so I’m nestling into God’s sovereignty and provision.

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