2-Step Plan for Preparing to go on a Sabbatical
Having been on sabbatical from work for some 3 months now, I felt burdened to process through my experience and share it so it blesses someone out there.
I have experienced, first-hand, the initial anxiety that came with exploring and entering a sabbatical and am now also reaping the benefits of it.
So, in penning down a simple guide to planning for a sabbatical, I had wanted to keep it short and sweet. I want to avoid another 4-steps, 5-steps, 7-steps guide which would add on to our plate of long to-dos. After all, planning to go for a sabbatical should help us cope better with our burning out and not add on to the stress.
Step 1: Review
Your life may feel like it’s chugging on in high gear and it may feel like it’s impossible or would take tremendous effort to stop. But, like a car going at high speed, it is crucial that we reduce speed now or we may either crash or get hurt when we have to “jam” our breaks to come to a screeching stop.
Here’s what to consider as you reduce speed to review your current circumstances to see if a sabbatical is indeed needed.
(a) Ask: Where am I now?
Take time to slow down and be away, even if it is for a few hours, half a day or over a stretch of a couple of days. Spend some time to really ask yourself two questions:
“Where am I now?” and
“How do I feel about it?”
(b) Ask: What am I sacrificing? Who am I becoming?
Chances are, you may have already sacrificed some things in life, such as relationships, health, spiritual walk etc. Are you OK with these sacrifices? Often times, we tell ourselves that these sacrifices are a temporary necessity in order for us to achieve, for example, success or financial freedom. But let’s face it. Sometimes, by the time we achieve what we had wanted to achieve, it might turn out to be a tad too late. Relationships could have already been damaged, the opportunity to see and be involved with our children’s life may have been lost, health (physical and/or mental) may no longer be at its desired state.
Take heed and listen also to your body. God, in His amazing wisdom, built in it mechanisms in our physical bodies to let us know when things are not right.
Are your current circumstances changing you to become someone unrecognizable, even by yourself?
(c) Ask: What are the 1-2 things that matter to me the most in my life?
It is at this point in time that we need to face the tough questions on what really matters to us? What are our priorities in life? Is what we are experiencing helping us with these priorities? Why do these matter? What happens after you have achieved these priorities?
(d) Seek: God
During this review, make an appointment with someone important: God. After all, He is the One who created you and the One who gave you your gifting. He is the One who has knows you and who you are meant to be.
Spend time with God to review your current circumstances. Earnestly seek Him. Ask Him to speak to you as you seek Him, pray and read the scriptures. Be real with Him because there is really no need to hide anything from God, He knows everything. Take time to commune with Him.
Ask Him to impress on your heart what He wants you to learn and where He will lead you. Press on as you seek Him and whatever He asks of you would always be consistent with His Word.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord…”
~ Jeremiah 29:13-14a (ESV)
(e) Seek: Wisdom
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
~ Proverbs 11:14 (ESV)
You have heard the adage that goes “No man’s an island”. God has not intended for life to be done alone; He intends for us to do life with Him and with godly communities. This is exemplified in God’s greatest commandment to love Him and our neighbors (Matt 22: 36-40). It is here that godly and wise counsel helps us to navigate through life.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV)
A Chinese saying illustrates the need for us to sometime seek counsel:
[dāng jú zhě mí páng guān zhě qīng]
Loosely translated, it means that sometimes those closely involved cannot see as clearly as those outside.
Indeed, it is especially during such periods of chaos, that it’s best to not just process through it with yourself and God but also with others who might be able to give you insights. These people could be your loved ones, your close friends, pastor, lifegroup or even a counselor or social worker (especially when you encounter emotional baggages or mental well-being challenges) who is always available to help. But, you would need to be open to seek, listen and consider these insights because these people may know us better and may sometimes be God’s mouthpiece to us.
(f) Discuss Options / Doing the Legwork
Discuss the option of sabbatical with them and work out the pragmatic details such as finances, lifestyle changes needed, when it will start and for how long will the it be, what you would like to achieve during your sabbatical (you can reference your responses to points (b) and (c) above) and if is a sabbatical option supported by your current organization (provided you wish to return to the same organization after your sabbatical).
Remember, a sabbatical is not meant to be an extended holiday but more of a time of intentional R.E.S.T.; a time to Refuel, Evaluate, Self-discover and Thrive (grow). You should come out of it with greater clarity of your life, its purposes and overcome some of the hiccups/mistakes you have made thus far. A better of yourself is often the aim and result of a sabbatical. If it is just a vacation you need, for example where you just relax your time away, you can stop reading this article because it would be out of the scope of our discussion here. Also ask yourself here if a change of work environment rather than a sabbatical would help. Sometimes, all you need is just vacation and time away to rest or a change of job.
Pragmatic details are important to discuss here. It should never be left out of the equation when planning for a sabbatical because we need to be faithful and responsible for the roles we play. We may, at any one point in time, have many roles. We may be a child, father/mother, boss, friend, colleague etc. Because of these roles, what we do would directly or indirectly affect others. For example, if we have been given the role of a parent by God, then we need to take the role seriously.
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
~ 1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV)
Do note, however, that I covered the “pragmatics” only after reviewing your current situation with God. Why? Because I believe that pragmatics such as finances and all should never overwrite God. If God wills it, He will provide it. This is where the faith journey begins. It’s where “the rubber hits the road” and where you have to trust God.
I had a similar experience when deciding on my sabbatical. I knew I was burning out and had sensed from God I needed to start taking care of myself. But yet, the pragmatics weigh me down. I had a second child coming in just a matter of months, bills to pay, little savings and no jobs in sight. I was stepping into an abyss. Even as I talked to others, some warned me about taking the sabbatical as it just does not sound like a logical decision at all, given my current commitments. But I pressed on and talked to God and my immediate family. I decided to trust God and throughout the last 3 months, He provided; He provided the call to my new work ministry, He provided the wisdom to make it come to pass, He provided financial favors and He provided peace as I rested.
After all, the concept of sabbatical is from God. He Himself rested and commanded us to rest as He did.
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
~ Genesis 2:2-3 (ESV)
“And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
~ Mark 2:27 (ESV)
God instituted the sabbatical day (Exodus 20:8-10) and the sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7). I’m reminded that God is not an evil taskmaster but is deeply concerned for His creation.
And even as we play roles that provide for and help others, we need to remember to also take care of ourselves. Only then will we be able to take care of others on a sustainable basis. It is no wonder that airlines, in their safety briefing, will have us adults put on the oxygen mask first, in the event of an emergency, before putting them on children. Only when we are taken care of can we take care of those under our care.
Step 2: Go!
This is the step that does not require much belaboring but is also the hardest to do.
Once you have discerned that a sabbatical would indeed help, go! All because it will help you to R.E.S.T. (Refuel, Evaluate, Self-discover and Thrive). Go!
The patriarchs of the Bible all had one thing in common: they went along with God not knowing what to expect. But, be it Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Paul or the disciples, they hear God’s clarion call to do what they need to do and they went. God will provide the rest (pun intended).
You have to trust that God holds you and that things will not fall apart. For example, you have to trust God that as He calls you out of a team, that He will provide the replacement and that the team will not fall apart.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” ~ Romans 8:31-32 (ESV)
And be prepared for occasional attacks from the evil one to derail you e.g. he will tell you that you’re not productive, that you heard wrongly, or that many things will go wrong. Work with God during this period and discern the self-talk. To keep yourself going, I do recommend you to reflect and journal your experience during this time. It will help you in your self-discovery and thriving.
As you embark on your sabbatical, I pray God’s wonderful peace to be upon you, as you seek Him for clarity and growth during this period.
There you have it. The 2 steps of Review & Go for your sabbatical. R.E.S.T. in God.