It seems I have preached my last sermon for a month and a bit, which feels like a weird place to be. I remain the pastor of my church, but I won’t be preaching for them for a while. I remain an elder, but I shan’t be at any elders’ meetings. I am still in membership, but I’m basically going to disappear myself for a bit. It is not something I have ever done before, it feels weird at the minute and I’ve no idea what the end result of doing it will be. Time will tell I suppose.
I haven’t started my sabbatical quite yet. Up until Saturday, I’ll still be doing all the usual sort of things I do in between Sundays. I’ll be catching up with our members by whatever means I can at the minute. I’ll still be prepping sermons. I’ll still be leading my community group one last time. I’ll still be dealing with various administrative things that just need doing. I’ll still be reading the Bible and praying. I’ll still be blogging and podcasting and all that malarkey. That is, up until Saturday, when a lot of this (though not absolutely all of it), will cease for a bit.
Whilst the occasion for all this is me not being well, I am not holding my breath that it will solve that particular problem for me. Though I think the time away doing something different will be nice, and is definitely welcome, I have come to terms with the fact that I might still be unwell at the end of it. Such is the nature of this particular debilitating beast. I also have a project I’ll be doing during this time too. Again, I don’t know if I’ll actually finish it. It is there, in part, because I’m not very good at sitting on my hands and doing nothing. In fact, my brain and my illness are such that there is a sweet spot that requires enough thought to occupy me without being so taxing that I end up more tired than when I took time off. Whether this project delivers on that is anybody’s guess, but we’ll have a good go.
I suppose what I am hoping for most is a proper break that proves to be restful alongside an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder dynamic. I’m hoping being away from the ordinary things of church for a month and a bit will reinvigorate me for when I come back into them. I am hoping that the time away doesn’t make me think, ‘great, a month off!’ (I’m not thinking that now), but rather makes me go, ‘that was a nice rest, but I’ve really missed our church and being amid the nitty-gritty of church life.’ That has been my overwhelming response to the whole COVID-19 stuff. Not the nice rest part, obviously. If anything, everything got much harder and the pressure increased as, for a time, almost everything revolved around me and, a little later, one other person. But particularly the lockdown periods where we were unable to meet at all, I was so grateful to get back to meeting on any level again because, frankly, I missed our people and the absence made me long to be back. I strongly suspect something like that will be my reaction at the end of my short sabbatical too. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.
Sure, I’ll probably still keep my hand in one or two things. I’ll probably still go along to our community football because the run around will do me good. I’ll probably still see the occasional ministry friend because, well, we’re friends. It might not include chatting too much about ministry, but seeing friends is a good thing. But overall, I’ll effectively be off the grid and I’m hoping the sum total of that will be happiness at being back. Not because the time off was not enjoyable, but because amidst the stress and strain of your normal pattern of work, you so often don’t realise what you really love and enjoy until it’s not there anymore. And so, to get it back, is joy indeed.
We’ll see, of course. It may be this little foretaste of my senior years speeds on my desire to take (extremely) early retirement. Maybe I am just lazy. Perhaps I’m one of those people who has strong and extremely efficient bursts of energy for sustained periods of time until I become a smouldering wick that needs reigniting. Maybe the pattern of my working life will be a continual cycle of work 7 rest 1, which by a rough calculation means this may happen another 4 times or so. Or maybe I’ll never need this sort of break again. Who knows?
Certainly the Lord does and we leave it with him in the end. If he wants me to have a long and industrious ministry, then he will inevitably make that happen. In the end, the church is the Lord’s, not mine, and he will do what is in its best interest. I take great comfort in that. The health of my church does not ultimately depend on me and the state of my ministry (short of me blowing it up through egregious sin myself) does not depend on me either. In the end, the church is the Lord’s, he remains sovereign over it, whatever may happen during the course of ministry is his doing too and so I can take this time off without guilt, come back as he determines and press on as long as he keeps me there.