It has been almost two weeks.
On Tuesday the 5th of July, I was sent on sabbatical. I say, “sent,” because I probably wouldn’t have chosen to do so if I wasn’t encouraged to do so by my elders and staff. In my mind, I always pictured the pastor who goes on sabbatical is a pastor who is spent, tired and worn out. He is the pastor who is at the edge of falling apart and can’t see straight because the burden of ministry is straining his spiritual life, his family life, and his personal life. He is a pastor who can’t stand seeing another “sheep” unless it has been prepared in the kitchen and served on a plate. He is the pastor who can’t come up with anything good to preach and only opens his Bible on Saturday night when he is cramming for “yet another sermon.” He is the pastor who is romantically involved with his secretary and hasn’t been intimate with his wife for years. He is the pastor who is going bald from stress and doesn’t sleep a full night without pills or alcohol.
I am not that pastor.
In truth, I feel like I am in the middle of a most beautiful time in our church, Epic Life. My relationship with our church family is great, I still feel creative, I love preaching and encouraging and leading. I am not worn out or not getting enough sleep, or stressed and balding, and my wife and I are enjoying a very sweet season in our marriage, this 25th year. I enjoy a good beer but believe in the beauty of one at a time. The truth be told, I don’t think I “need” a sabbatical.
But…here I am. I am finishing my second week of a two and a half month sabbatical. I have mowed the lawn two times, made two yard games, made a apple cider press, repaired my windblown fence, made a compose barrel, made a swing, cleaned my garage, split some firewood, pruned the trees in the back yard, shared meals with friends, welcomed guests in our home for a couple nights sleep, hiked Mt Rainier, paid bills, helped the neighbor and played many games and took many walks with my boys and wife. Now what?
What am I suppose to be doing?… I am studying the book of Isaiah, reading a book on discipleship, a book on creativity, a book on church planting and a healthy dose of Calvin and Hobbes, and keeping a pretty cool list of creative ideas.
Tomorrow I will be mowing my lawn for the third time.
The third time.
My first job was mowing lawns around the small town of Grangeville, ID; a town nestled in the foothills of Mount Idaho. My dad gave me the truck when I turned 15 and taught me how to take care of the equipment so I would actually make some money. I really enjoyed mowing lawns. I think I enjoy mowing laws for the same reason I am a knoller, I like things to look symmetrical or creatively unsymmetrically symmetrical. As I mowed eight yards a week it didn’t take long for a phenomenon known only to the mowing world to take place – the dull blade.
Phenomenon – because the blade is sharpened hardened steel and it is being dulled by grass. Grass. How is this possible? I don’t know the answer to this deeply philosophical and deeply spiritual question, but I certainly can draw a life lesson on sabbaticals from it.
A lawn mower blade starts out sharp and cuts grass like a hot knife cutting warm butter, but over time and many, many, many blades of grass dulls the sharp edge. It happens slowly and isn’t really noticeable for a long time, until you look closely, and realize the grass is being thrashed and whipped not cut. A little look under that mower brings a realization the blade is so dull it probably couldn’t even cut soft butter.
What does it need? Sharpened.
How does it get sharpened? It has to be removed from the mower set on the work bench and pressed into the grinder. The grinder literally takes some of the steel off the blade as it sharpens.
There are four things I want to focus on, although I could write a book on this analogy.
Realize – A dull blade isn’t a statement on the quality or function of the lawn mower, it is but a statement about the blade – it needs to be sharpened. Often the blade is not sharpened because it is out of sight and since it is not readily seen or accessible it is left as is, which means it will only get worse. The mower itself often works just fine, but if the blade is left to get more and more dull the nicely mowed lawn will look worse and worse and the entire mower will be to blame. It would be silly to throw the mower away and buy a new one just because the blade needs a bit of sharpening.
A sabbatical allows for a bit of sharpening to happen, even though things seem great and may even be great, sharpening is still such an important part of ministry life and is very hard to do while going full throttle. Ministry is unlike mowing lawns in that when I was finished mowing a lawn I wouldn’t think about the lawn for at least a week. Can you imagine mowing a lawn for 24-7-365? The mower will die pretty fast. Ministry is like that. There isn’t a break from the work to be done, and even though I love it so much, I am pretty sure I won’t be able to keep the pace going forever. The mower will wear out.
Pastors and the churches they minister with need to Realize a sabbatical needs to happen when the blade needs to be sharpened, not when the mower needs to be replaced. Sharpening a blade is pretty worthless if the mower has gone on to the great yard in the sky.
Separate – Pretty simple here. To sharpen a blade, it needs to be separated from the mower.
“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.”
Jesus (Mark 6:31)
Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)
Separate means to keep apart and divided. Honestly, I have to force myself to do this. I love the church community I get to minister with. But I also am being reminded by scripture that being separated is overwhelmingly important. Jesus never once told people he was tired of them and needed to get away from them, but he did separate himself from the life of ministry.
I must withdraw to the wilderness. Which means, I will not be answering emails, texts, messages, phone calls or posts. I might not even answer the door. I am forcing myself to be separate. Unless you are dying, and even then tell Averi first and she will decide if I need to know.
Jesus went to the wilderness while the people he ministered to and his friends he loved continued to live, suffer, hurt, work, worship, celebrate and die.
Sharpen – The blade needs to be pressed into the grinding stone to remove the dullness bringing a newly sharpened edge.
I need to be sharpened as well. I don’t know what this looks like yet, but part of it has been being home and working on projects I have put off for years. I will be sharpened by learning from mentors, books, the Word, etc. This sharpening will be a blessing to the church community I love, just as the sharp blade will now “minister” to the lawn, creating a beautifully manicured lawn.
Return – The “sabbatical” of the blade is only good if it returns to the mower and the lawn. And, if the separation and sharpening have been effective, the return will cut a beautiful lawn. I am forced to assume that Jesus’ Sabbatical exits were just what he needed to continue to do what he was called to. For if we are living a life of the called we are living a different life than one we would have chosen for ourselves; that life requires Sabbatical.
I am trying my best to faithfully steward Sabbatical by not continuing to cut the grass with a dull blade. In this sabbatical season, I will be forcing myself to be separate, not because I want to, but because I need to. If I don’t respond to requests and communications, it’s because I have been separated. I will continue to post a few Instagram and Twitter thoughts, which get shared with FB, but I won’t be checking in to see who “Like” those posts. I will separate, be sharpened and then may I return fully sharpened and equipped to mow the lawn of life well.