Thinking About...Sabbatical

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This summer the first line of my out-of-office email said, “I will never read your email.” Such matter-of-factness bothered some people. I hope it also communicates the seriousness with which I approached my summer sabbatical from work at City Church. I was fully committed to disconnecting, to resting, to receiving it as a gift. Now back to work, I’ve been thinking about my sabbatical and the lessons I learned. Primarily, I want to say thank you to City Church—its leadership, its staff, and its people. My sabbatical this summer was a gift from all of you: a gift to me, to my marriage, to my family, and to you.

A Gift For Me

Ten days into the summer I boarded a plane for France. Along with three other friends from Richmond, I participated in a week-long cycling trip in Provence. For the last seven years cycling has been a favorite hobby, and the chance to ride scenic roads in France with men who are close friends felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Only now that I’ve done it, I want to do it again. So maybe it won’t be once in a lifetime. 

The high point of the week (literally and figuratively) was the day we rode up famed Mt. Ventoux. It’s a twelve mile climb with an average gradient of 8 percent (which is geeky bicycle talk for long and steep). One of my friends took a picture of Barrett Clark and me at the top of Mt. Ventoux, surveying the panoramic summit vista. It’s an image of how the sabbatical was a gift to me: a different vantage point and the opportunity to see, to be attentive to the landscape below.

A Gift for My Marriage

After the bike trip ended, I took a high speed train to Paris where I rendezvoused with my wife, Sarah. We spent four nights in the City of Lights in a cozy hotel room four blocks from the Seine. The city was loud and vibrant and romantic and wonderful. Without our kids, without the pressure of work, without a schedule, we could simply be friends, exploring Paris together.

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For Sarah the prospect of the trip wasn’t without its difficulties. The idea of a trans-Atlantic flight made her anxious. A few weeks before the trip she met with a counselor friend of ours to learn some strategies for assuaging those anxieties. After Sarah explained the purpose of the trip, the counselor responded (with tears in her eyes), “You’re going for love.” And she was. Our time in Paris was a gift that nourished our love for each other. 

A Gift for My Family

By July, a month into the sabbatical, I realized that the greatest gift it would offer was to my family, especially our three kids. It meant uninterrupted time. Long days together. No rushing out the door for another meeting. We spent the first two weeks of August on a remote island off the coast of Maine, a place that has become very dear to our family. 

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Much of those two weeks you could find us sprawled around the rental house each of us reading a book (ask me some time what I read this summer!), or at the town beach combing the shore for tide-borne treasures: driftwood, sea glass, heart-shaped rocks, and sea shells. Our time in Maine brought a different sort of attentiveness—looking for the special and the beautiful within the ordinary. 

A Gift for You 

I’m confident that this summer’s sabbatical will not just be a gift for me, for my marriage, and for my family. It has been already and will continue to be a gift for you, for City Church. In my absence, others at City Church (staff and members alike) stepped into important roles and shouldered new responsibilities. When we returned I heard multiple times, “We missed you, but everyone did great.”

What’s more, this summer will be a gift that bears fruit for years to come. It has germinated attentiveness in me—that I might listen more, stay quiet, slow down, look deeply. It has done subterranean work in me that won’t be seen until months or years down the road. And it will bear fruit through you, too; helping you learn that church isn’t about one pastor, one personality, one voice, but rather, it is the gifts of all offered to God.