Part of my sabbatical plans include reading several books. Some of these are statistically oriented, and others are not. I’ve been pleased with my progress on this over the summer and early fall. Reviews of some of these books may be coming later. I’ve got some plans, but want to have the books in front of me for reference before writing those posts. Today, I started reading a book I am pretty excited about: The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, by Mark Buchanan. I came across this book in Ollie’s one day this summer, and it seemed like the kind of book that someone taking a sabbatical should read. As I said, I started reading it today, and was caught by a couple of things that seemed worthy of reflection in this space.
The first section that I wanted to share and reflect on came in the preface. Buchanan is discussing the image of his parents’ cats taking a nap in the winter sun patches in his home growing up. He then defines Sabbath in this way:
It’s a small yet ample chunk of space, a narrow yet full segment of time. In it, you can lie down and rest. From it, you can rise up and go — stronger, lighter, ready to work again with vigor and a clear mind. It is room enough, time enough, in which to relinquish all encumbrances, to act as though their existence has nothing whatsoever to do with your own. It is an invitation, at one and the same time, to empty yourself and fill yourself. (page xv)
There is a lot in this short passage, but I think the key here is that we allow ourselves time to disconnect from the encumbrances of our life. Several years ago I realized that I was not doing this regularly in my academic life. I would work hard all week in my office, in class, and too often at home. Then the weekend would come, and I would work half-heartedly on Friday night and Saturday. This would leave me with work undone on Sunday, and the looming deadline of Monday morning’s classes coming. I would then offer a quick apology to God and Joy (my wife) after getting home from church, and plow into the remaining pile of work, hoping to finish in time for at least some relaxation in the evening. I realized that sacrificing my Sabbath in this way was likely not good for my mental, spiritual, or physical health, but I spent quite some time in this rut. Finally, I came upon a solution. Since my mother is Jewish, and I grew up studying Scripture with my dad being a pastor, I was well aware that the Sabbath in the Old Testament was on Saturday. I also know that it is likely that the early Christians worshipped on Sunday for two reasons. One was that Christ was raised on the first day of the week (Sunday), so they were honoring this each week by worshipping the risen Lord. But since most of the earliest believers were Jewish, they likely did not abandon their Sabbath observance on Saturday, they simply added their gathering with other believers in Jesus the Messiah to their schedule.
My solution the last few years has been to keep a modified version of the Jewish Sabbath. For Jews, Sabbath is from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. From the time I leave work on Friday, I allow myself the freedom to not do any school-related work until sundown Saturday. Generally, this extends until the kids are in bed Saturday, and on weekends that I don’t have a ton of work, this might even extend to after church on Sunday. Then I can spend Sunday afternoon/evening with my laptop open or papers to grade spread on a table in front of me. I have had time to relax, forget about the pressing concerns of work, and approach this new week with a clear mind, better able to work effectively.
Three things I should note: 1) I am not legalistic about this, at all. I allow myself to go to math conferences on Saturday, for instance, with my department and focus on work related things as needed. 2) I do not lounge around all day. Often I work harder physically than I do during the week. There are always plenty of things to do/work on around the house. I just allow myself to not feel like I should be grading instead, and enjoy the opportunity to get things done that require a different set of skills. 3) This probably wouldn’t work for everyone! I am too prone to procrastination to get everything done Friday and Saturday to free up Sunday. It is easier for me to relax first, then get to work refreshed with the deadline of Monday morning as added motivations.
What does this have to do with my sabbatical? I’m glad you asked! In the first few paragraphs of the introductory chapter, Buchanan writes:
Though my work often consumed me, I was losing my pleasure in it — and, for that matter, in many other things besides — and losing, too, my effectiveness in it.
I have done a better job of teaching due to my Sabbath practice, but still in the last couple of semesters I could feel that I was beginning to tire of teaching the same thing over and over, the faculty meetings I was required to attend, and the other routines of the life of the college professor. Part of my interest in this sabbatical stemmed from my realization that a semester away from all of that, to focus on something else professionally and keep a more relaxed pace, might be just the thing to reignite my passion. I am already sensing that to be the case. I miss the interaction with students, and will surely view that with renewed appreciation this January when I return to the classroom. I also miss my colleagues at Messiah. Seeing them about once a week is helpful, but it is not the same, and I look forward to getting back to the professional interaction with them this spring. I don’t miss the faculty meetings, and general red tape of academe, but the other things will once again help me get through those too.
The idea of a Sabbath year is biblical, and I am beginning to appreciate even further the wisdom of our Creator who knows that we need an occasional change of scenery to allow our minds to clear, and appreciate all that we have been given.
I have more to say, but this post is already too long. Look forward to Part 2 shortly. 🙂