I had pastored that church for many years. We—that dear congregation of loved people—had endured much together. The weddings and the funerals. The pleasant church experiences and the relational conflicts. The questions about music and sermons and doctrine and events. The fun of picnics and ball games and fellowship and study groups. The sermons and stories of God’s love applying to our everyday lives. The hospital visits, the early morning prayer meetings, the leadership retreats, the friendships: moving life from the singular to the plural.
I enjoyed those experiences, those relationships, those responsibilities of my vocation. Even the pain, when suffered in a true community setting, can be a part of growth and development.
So, what was the problem? If you are a pastor loving to pastor, to lead, to preach, to be there, the possible tendency is to love what we do more than we love the One we are doing that for.
I needed to get away with God. Away from all I was trying to do for God. Away from the duties and tasks and role. Away from my schedule. I needed to get away with God, only. I had pastored for many years and endured a life-changing experience. I’m not an escapist and I’m not into avoidance. But I needed time away. Time with God. I needed to not teach about those three words; I needed to apply them. I thought of those words and said them slowly: time…with…God.
So, I took a sabbatical.
The sabbatical was a leaving, a departure, an adventure into the world of away-ness. Returning to my First Love. Engaging in the Divine Romance. Being sure I loved my heavenly Father more than I loved what I was trying to do for Him.
Again, departing can be unhealthy when done as avoidance or escapism. But departing for correct reasons can be healing. Like a renewing of vows. Like a spiritual, emotional, and mental vacation.
It can also prepare us to step from one season into another.
It did for me.