November 16, 2022
by Lee Ritchie

This summer you, the church, gifted me with sabbatical. I must confess that the gift of sabbatical felt much like the gift of grace. I understood the significance of such an extravagant gift while feeling unworthy to receive it. How does one accept such a gift and steward it well? Sabbatical held two main parts for me: renewal for self and renewal for ministry with our children and families. This week I’ll share about its impact on me and next week you’ll learn more about how sabbatical is playing out in ministry with children.

I began sabbatical by taking a solo retreat. Someone asked me what I planned to do and I replied, “I have no idea. I’m going to take my Bible, journal, walking shoes, and yoga mat and we’ll see.” This retreat was, I confess, uncomfortable for me. I know that I am good at doing, but the slowing down work of being a human being takes intentionality. I kept coming back to Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God. As I exited sabbatical I finished with another solo retreat and I am pleased to share that I wasn’t uncomfortable with not having an agenda and it didn’t bother me to not plow through a to-do list. I was able to reflect on the gift that you have provided and who I am as a child of God and a human being.

I read a book called Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner not because I was in crisis but as an invitation to reflect on the messy middle of faith and life. It was important for me to reflect on where God has been moving in my life in these last years especially as we crawl our way out of the pandemic. I was reminded about the abiding nature of God-with-us and seeing how God is calling me to be myself and serve our congregation and community more deeply in the days to come. In addition to reading about being still and God still abiding with me, I came to the mat (the yoga mat) for time to abide with God. That may sound strange, but it was holy time for me to not just be in my head but integrate head, heart, and body in being present with God.

My family was also blessed by sabbatical through time for me to slow down and notice differently.  Families are always changing and this time allowed me to pay attention to some subtle cues and patterns that needed attention. In this time I was reminded just how short the years of parenting young children really are. In an effort to savor the days and moments we played, laughed, and went on adventures together. (The picture at the top of the story is of my children playing on a playground in Switzerland while visiting family in Europe.)

An unplanned gift of sabbatical was the gift to worship. I hadn’t planned my Sundays for while I was away, but God planned them for me. I craved worship and the chance to be led in worship so most Sundays I attended different churches in Winston-Salem and was invited to be present with God and the people in non-leadership ways. God still is God whether I am working or resting and I get to worship from a posture of work and rest as well.

Next week I’ll share with you about the ministry gifts of sabbatical including studying children’s spirituality, holy conversations, and social emotional learning. In the meantime, thank you for the opportunity to step away into an intentional time of renewal. It was good to rest, play, reflect, and give thanks for God’s abundance.

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