One of the many running jokes about 2020 is "Time has no meaning." It is a pithy way to describe this prolonged season of feeling unmoored. Without the usual seasonal, monthly, weekly events that we use as anchors, it is harder to gauge the passing of time.
Even outside of 2020, Sabbath time is unique time. Whether it is an hour, a day, a week, or three months - true Sabbath time passes differently, feels different, than other time.
The last three months have passed surprisingly slowly. Something I can say even as I arrive at the threshold of its end. Yes, there were times I had to actively remind myself to be present in the moment instead of thinking ahead to this day. It would do me no good to have arrived here having spent three months wondering, worrying, dreading the end. But more often than not I was able to take each moment, each place I found myself as it came (with much thanks to a couple of friends who were good about reminding me when I forgot).
Being present in each moment meant at times sitting with hard emotions - loneliness, grief, fear, anger. Being present allowed for me to respond to Spirit when she nudged me to go sit outside, to message someone I was thinking about, to put down the book or the phone for a while. Being present allowed me to cuddle with my nieces and watch TV with my parents. Being present in this moment means that now is when I feel ready for my sabbatical to end.
I couldn't have said that a week ago. Probably because a week ago I still hadn't unpacked from being gone for 3 months. I still needed time to settle back in, to rebuild my nest in the place I call home.
And while I've still got things to unpack and reorganize, I am ready to step back into "ordinary" (as in non-Sabbatical, not in the liturgical calendar sense) time. I am ready to re-engage with ministry.
When I started planning my sabbatical in the summer of 2019, I was thinking about when I would celebrate 5 years with the congregation (end of August), the parts of the church year that I didn't want to miss (Lent/Easter, summer camp and mission trips, Advent/ Christmas), and how my absence would fit into the church calendar. I thought about who I wanted to see, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do with my time.
Like most things in 2020, 80% of my plans changed. Besides the when, three things remained - time at Christmount, time with my family, and time at a retreat center. What started as a travel-heavy three months became extended time in my favorite places with some of my favorite people.
The changes made unexpectedly gave me what I needed most - time. Time to settle, time to rest, time to reconnect, time to be with others. And the timing was just right in ways 2019 me could not have fathomed. I was able to take a break after months of trying to do ministry in new ways during a difficult time. I was able to release the anxiety around how to respond to changing conditions. I was able to spend time "safe at home" with loved ones. Now, if I had a say, I would have wanted to return when the virus cases *weren't* surging, but you can't have everything.
Time is a significant image for sabbaticals in general - it is the gift of time, it is the opening up of time as routine responsibilities and plans are set down. Sabbath is Holy time, time that mirrors God's own divine rest after the act of creation.
Best practices for planning sabbatical time recommend the 3 month time period for a reason - it provides time to wind down and disconnect, time to sit in the holy space, and time to start turning back and preparing to return. This wisdom has certainly felt true for me. It took time for the anxiety of caring for others during this time to lessen, for the daily and weekly to do lists to stop filling my thoughts.
And when those were released, set aside for a while, there was room, and energy, and yes time, for my mind to wander, for thoughts to percolate, for self-reflection. While I want to make sure I find ways to cultivate that spaciousness as I return, there is also comfort in returning to daily and weekly tasks, to the active work of ministry, to relationships.
Today, as this time comes to an end, I am aware of the questions I will get about my time away. I don't have a succinct way to sum it up, to neatly package the insights I've had. If you ask me about my sabbatical, I don't know what I'll share, but one thing I won't be able to say enough is how grateful I am for the gift of time.
To be able to step away from the church, from ministry has been a wonderful and generous gift. One that has truly done my soul good. I am beyond grateful that I was given this opportunity, this holy time. And I pray I continue to find windows of sabbath time that are spacious and renewing.