How To Plan a Sabbatical
One of the benefits that Brentwood Baptist provides her ministers is a monthly retreat day and 5 year sabbaticals. But have you ever wondered how you ought to spend your time on sabbatical or your spiritual retreat days? For some, imagining and planning what to do becomes so stressful that they end up doing nothing. They are concerned that they might not be “doing it right”, as if there is a right and a wrong way to have a sabbath. I do not believe that there is a right way or a wrong way to spend your sabbath, but there are ways that are more helpful than others. Let me suggest that a sabbath, whether it is for a day or for a month, include three things: rest, devotion, and recreation.
The word “Sabbath” means, “rest.” If a sabbath includes any activity at all, it should be first and foremost rest. It is intended as a break from the regular activities that mark our days. Rest may include many things, depending on what brings each person joy. For some, it might include sleeping later than normal, allowing their rest rhythm rather than an alarm to awaken them. It might include a mid-day nap. For others, rest might include an activity that is particularly nourishing to them, e.g., gardening, exercise, or reading. The activity is not as important as whether it brings you refreshment.
Another essential for sabbath is devotion. Time set aside without interruption for devotion is critical for our spiritual health and growth. Someone once said, “You know that you have been silent long enough when you hear a voice that is not your own.” I like that. It implies a deep listening that is more than a cursory reading of a biblical text or a devotional book. When Elijah was recovering from his bout of depression on Mt. Horeb, he recognized the presence of God, not in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake. These were the normal and expected forms of a theophany. Rather, Elijah recognized God in the “still small voice” (KJV), “the sound of sheer silence” (NRSV), “a voice, a soft whisper” (HCSB). A sabbath gives us a time for that kind of deep listening. I would recommend that your devotional time include prayer, Bible reading, a book for lectio divina, and a journal.
Finally, an essential for sabbath is recreation. This may be the hardest for some because we are not taught to think of recreation as a spiritual activity. Sabbath implies a time for renewal: renewal of creative energy and enthusiasm for assigned tasks. Recreation provides that. The very word, “re-create,” reminds us that recreation is an avenue to gain new creative energy. When we work without play, we burn out, losing our vision, energy, and confidence. Columbia University did a study years ago in which they included one hour of unstructured play in the school curriculum for students aged 4-13 years. The result was, “. . .students showed significant improvements in attentional skills and cognitive functioning after the play curriculum compared to having a full day of traditional academic classes.” (The Strength Switch, Lea Waters, p. 157). It is a good reminder that we need time in our lives for play. When planning for your sabbath, think about what you do that is play and include it in your plans.
There may be many other things that you want to include in your sabbath. Some like to include time with family. Some might enjoy a time for service to others. Some might find it helpful to have time for exercise. But however you plan your time, be sure to include rest, devotion, and recreation.