Planning for sabbatical is a two-fold endeavor. On one hand, it is all head—logistics, timing, finances. On the other, it’s all heart—intuition, discernment, intention, preparation.
The head part is all practical, and honestly, it’s pretty easy to work out once you’ve made the commitment. It might not happen overnight, nearly 18 months in my case, but you can chart the path and start making progress against your goals. That’s a whole other blog.
The heart part is a journey unto itself.
Some of it happens in preparation; some of it is only work you can do when you have stepped out of the boat.
I’ll barely crack the surface in one blog. Honestly, this started to get really long, so I’m just going to highlight intuition and discernment in this post, hit intention and preparation in the next, and hopefully continue to work out these themes in future blogs.
In the 18+ months before I actually embarked on my sabbatical, I prayed. A lot. I’m aware of the blessing and privilege of even being able to do something like take time off from work, and I don’t take the responsibility of that blessing lightly.
I felt the call to sabbatical, but I didn’t want to throw up my hands and walk out on my job (although I do think God can work through that if you do end up going the light-everything-on-fire route). I wanted to do right by my employer, my teams, and myself. I also wanted to be really intentional about how I spent my time.
A sabbatical, however long it is, is a finite season. Its purpose should be to bring forth the work on the other side of it, to sow seeds in rest that you’ll harvest for years. And a month, three months, six months, or a year can fly by you.
Intuition is the whisper of the Holy Spirit, although you may be more comfortable calling it a gut feeling. Sometimes, the whisper tells you to steer clear of a person or place. Sometimes, the whisper nudges you to reach out to someone who pops into your head over and over. Sometimes, the whisper beckons you out, right to the edge of the shore. It tells you to leave behind the safe place because there is so much more if you’re willing to choose trust over fear.
But listening to your intuition, hearing that holy whisper is work that takes silence and space. Listening takes stillness in our surroundings and in our beings. You won’t hear it if you’re drowning it out with a constant flood of intake—Netflix, a packed schedule, too much wine.
It takes learning to be alone with yourself, and being willing to turn inward and heed what you hear.
A lot of times it feels scary. There’s nothing of what our society values in terms of science or data that will prove your intuition is right. But the wild thing about a life marked by faith is that it looks like one insane leap after another. And once you hear, the responsibility shifts to you. You’ve been told what to do, no matter how risky it seems, will you listen? What will you do?
For me, I felt in my being that I needed more space, to not have my calendar dictated by work, to be able to think and listen. I wanted to write more, sing more, learn, and adventure, do the things that give me joy and fill my being. I’m increasingly convinced that we can build things in this life that last into the next. I think that’s what purpose really is—doing the work we were created to do, to which we can uniquely contribute to building things that last. I want to do that work, but the first step was wild submission—sabbatical.
Discernment is about confirmation and direction. It’s also one of those spiritual words that can seem really vague and amorphous. Basically, it’s the phase where you know your intuition is screaming at you, but you’re still not sure. So let’s go ahead and ask over and over if this is actually what I’m supposed to do. Or maybe that’s just me.
Again, prayer, seeking silence, and creating space to just be and listen are critical. Discernment really is about the push and pull between doubt and determination. And it’s hard to be determined when you can’t hear with your heart.
What’s funny is how simple the elements of seeking guidance are, and how hard they are for us to into practice in our busy, distracted world.
I recommend developing a daily and weekly rhythm of centering. My own morning routine revolutionized my whole life. Every morning, I wake, make tea, read two chapters of the Bible, and pray. I also try to move my body every morning in some form or fashion—class, Peloton, walk, yoga. It takes continual discipline, but sticking to this routine has actually created so much more expansiveness in my life for curiosity and discerning. When I started my morning routine, it was wake, make tea, read a quick devotional, and occasionally pray.
Just start somewhere… maybe it’s wake and sit in stillness for five minutes before you move onto anything else—no phone, email, or rushing straight to start the day—five minutes to pause, be present, and hold space.
Discerning direction really is an ongoing work. Because unfortunately, you can’t discern once and be like, I’m done! All good!
I’m blessed to have some really wise mentors and friends in my life who were willing to ask smart questions and then listen while I worked it out. And I also found it helpful to work with a spiritual director.
Keep asking questions, listening, and writing down what you hear. It’s like putting down a few stones a day at a time on your path. When you start, it’s a handful of stones, but after months and years, you’ve built a path that leads to oceans, mountains, deserts, rivers, to faraway places and hearths around the corner. It’s amazing how it starts to accrue to something you never would have thought at the beginning. And how an insight you write down years ago suddenly crystallizes and connects everything together in your present.