10 weeks off.
From everything ministry.
No sermons to preach.
No meetings to hold.
No counseling appointments.
No set up and tear down.
No going to the office.
No staying late to work.
A sabbatical is defined as “a period of paid leave granted to a worker for study or travel ...” The idea is routed in the Hebrew word “Shabbat,” or as we know it, “Sabbath.”
The Shabbat observance entails refraining from work activities, often with great rigor, and engaging in restful activities to honor the day.
So ... a period of rest, refraining from work activities ... engaging in restful activities (like study or travel) to honor the day.
10 weeks ... of no work.
I am three weeks into my sabbatical, my shabbat, and I have to tell you, it has been difficult to rest. The first week I spent my time trying to figure out what to do with myself. What to do with my time, my hands, my mind. Sitting still does not come naturally to me unless it is “earned.” In other words, give me a day off after a few long weeks of work, fine, but giving me 10 weeks without any work?!
This isn’t going to be easy.
Each of the first thee weeks it seems that the Lord has given me a “word” or a revelation to think about or focus on. I haven’t looked for them, but reoccurring themes or patterns just seem to pop up.
The word for the first week has been RHYTHM.
As a music guy I know there are three “foundations” that set a musical piece in order. Three structures, if you will, that inform the musical piece as to where it will go and what it will be.
Rhythm, tone, and tempo.
The rhythm is set by the time signature: 3/4 or 4/4 or 6/8.
The tone is set by the key signature: one sharp (key of G), one flat (F), four sharps (E), etc.
The tempo is set by a number marking how quickly the beats happen.
During the first week of my sabbatical it became very clear to me (and everyone around me) that all three of these foundations for me are set to Live Oak Christian Church.
I used to think that it was just my tempo and tone: my tempo being my schedule and my tone being my attitude/emotions. This made sense to me. My tempo was set to the pace and patterns of the church, so when the church is busy, I am busy; when the church is slow, so am I. When the church is stressed, so am I. When things are going well or things are going poorly, well, so am I. As the church goes, so go I. The tempo and tone, I get.
But I didn’t realize how deeply tied my rhythm was to the church.
The first weekend, around Friday afternoon and through all of Saturday, I could feel myself ramping up. My body tensed up, my emotions started to tighten, my stress slowly inched north. My mind was fuzzy, unable to focus, like a kid sitting in front of TV movies screens trying to decide which one to watch. Everything about me didn’t know what to do or where to focus.
Everything was out of rhythm.
It wasn’t that I was going too fast or too slow. It wasn’t that I wasn’t in tune, although I’m sure my heart was off pitch. Nothing in me could find the beat.
Imagine an orchestra - woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings - all playing together in harmony and in rhythm. It’s amazing. The instruments are all tuned to a concert pitch and they are all playing together in the same rhythm, or with different rhythms working off of the same time signature. Powerful and beautiful.
Now, imagine a fourth grade orchestra trying to hold it together through Beethoven’s 5th!
The percussion section all hitting on different beats. The strings trying to play the 5th as its supposed to be played while the brass are trying to perform it as a polka!
That was me the first weekend of my sabbatical.
After 26 years of always marching toward the weekend ... after over 1,300 weeks always building up to Sunday ... after setting my rhythm to the simple fact that Sunday happens every 7 days ... When that target or focus was gone from my schedule, my body and heart and head and habits simply didn’t know what to do.
The absence of the constant focus of my rhythm exposed how deeply my rhythm is set.
And then I began to ask a very important question - maybe a life-changing question - is this what my life’s rhythm is supposed to be set to?
Don’t get me wrong, setting the tone and tempo are equally important, but for now my focus is on my rhythm, and my “time signature” is currently set to the church.
Is that where it is supposed to be?
At the same time I’ve started a “30 Days with Jesus” study and it is clear to me that Jesus had this rhythm thing figured out. Seriously, my schedule and stress are pathetic when compared to what Jesus endured during his ministry on earth. People demanded his time and attention in ways that I could never understand. “Come heal my kid.” “Come teach in my town.” “Come mourn with us.” “Come eat with us.” Jesus walks into the lion’s den of Judaism as well as the governor’s palace of Rome and turns everything upside down. He wasn’t only fulfilling the old, he was creating the new, and in the process he was the recipient of mockery, insults, estrangement from those closest to him, and death threats. All this while carrying the literal weight of humanity on his heart and shoulders.
I simply can’t imagine.
Yet he didn’t set his rhythm to his ministry, responsibilities, or the demands of other people. He set his rhythm to his relationship with his Father.
How easy it would have become for the intensity of his ministry to reset his rhythm. How simple it would have been for his life to revolved around his work instead of his life AND work revolving around his Father.
But Jesus’ rhythm was always set. No matter how difficult or easy, how tired or inspired, how in pain or in joy he was, Jesus always stayed in rhythm with his Heavenly Father.
(To see this in full, check out John 5, especially versus 16-30.)
So three weeks into my sabbatical ...
What is my rhythm set to?
What do I need to change in order to recalibrate it?
How can I keep my rhythm focused on where it should be?
How about you? What is your rhythm set to? What are you doing to keep it in sync?