All of us are prideful people. It’s true… don’t even try to argue the point (those closest to you would take MY side). It comes in various shapes and a million different sizes. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times not so much. It can make us do, or not do, some very interesting things.
For the past few years, my wife and I have been weary… I mean really weary. It’s been so bad that I began to find the things I love – study, sermon preparation, discipleship, leadership training – exhausting, almost to the point that I dread them. When anybody begins to dread the things they love… that’s not good. When a Pastor begins to dread the things he loves that are also integral parts of his role AS a Pastor… that’s really not good. As I examined my heart, my weariness had nothing whatsoever to do with my church family. They’ve always been supportive, very loving, and excited (overall) to have me as their Pastor. I just couldn’t figure it out.
So, my wife and I tried to wait it out, listen to the Lord, search for His purpose and teaching in our weariness, and overall just “push through” it (I’m usually really good at that). But this time, no matter how hard we pushed, nothing budged. Nothing. We just became more and more and more weary.
So we began to ask ourselves and the Lord a series of questions…
- Is it time for us to move into some other realm of ministry? (Every time we asked this, both our spirits and the searching we did in the Word of God told us “No. That’s not it.” And we still had a great love for our church family that gave us the desire to be among them and continue leading them.)
- Is it time for me to move out of ministry altogether? (Every time we asked this, we got the same thing.)
So, exasperated and without a clue, we called the District Superintendent of our association of churches to come and meet with us. We told him our experience, about our weariness, and about the road that got us there. He helped us to see that in almost 20 years of ministry, we had only had one “real” vacation. He wondered if we had gotten adequate, much-needed needed rest over the years. Then he asked me a very revealing question… “Is this to the point of crisis, or not?” As I pondered his question, I realized that we weren’t at a crisis – yet. But if something didn’t change, we would be soon. That bothered me…
He suggested that we might need a sabbatical.
My ears perked up… Sabbatical? I’d heard of those… in fact I knew exactly what it meant – but had never thought about the possibility of having one for myself. As he described what a sabbatical could look like, he used 4 “R” words – Rest, Renewal, Restoration, and Recreation. Man… did that sound good… to me and my wife! He said that in his opinion, if we didn’t get a sufficient break from ministry, a time when we could totally unplug from all ministry responsibilities and contact, something would give out. It might be health, it might be emotions, it might be our minds – but something would give out under the strain.
That’s when I began feeling a bit scared. I could already feel hints of some of those things in my soul.
That’s where the pride reared its ugly head (remember how I started this post?). A ton of prideful thoughts began to flood my mind… It’s not like me to give in to a little fatigue. It’s not in me to quit – at anything that I feel called to do. And I felt like I hadn’t been at this particular church long enough to ask them to bear the burden of an extended paid leave for me (I’d just begun my 5th year). In essence, I was saying that I hadn’t earned it yet. After all, a sabbatical usually doesn’t happen for a Pastor until after 5 years at the earliest, and many times not until after 7 years. It just didn’t seem fair to me to ask that of my church.
While all that was true, I was falling into the trap of thinking, “I can just stick it out for a bit longer, until I earn it.” As I began to voice those challenges to the idea, both Greg and my wife helped me to see that I couldn’t stick it out. I couldn’t. Though it would be a huge request, that if granted, would be an added burden the entire church family would have to bear together, it was what I needed as their Pastor – and wisdom and humility demanded that I openly share my need with them. What settled it in my mind once and for all was when Greg said, “It’s a lot cheaper, in every way, for them to do this for you than for them to have to find another Pastor.” He was right… and my pride melted into humility – at least enough for me to admit that I had to do this, and soon.
The next week at Elder meeting, I spoke to my Elder team about this need… and they were more than understanding. They understood my need and were eager to help. To make a long story short (too late) I have been given the gracious gift of 4 months of paid leave, in which I am expected to rest, renew, restore, and recreate. I’m so thankful. So humbled. So amazed at how God Himself is already working to get things in order for the church family while I am gone from them.
I will miss my church family. I will miss my role as their Pastor. But I will cherish the great gift of rest, reflection, and extended time with my family and the Lord. And today, I am seeing anew, God’s great grace – that by definition is not deserved or earned.