Back to Normal
On April 4th, 2022, I began a sabbatical. Next week, I will go back to normal life. When I began my sabbatical in April, I had no idea what would happen, now, I look back with grateful appreciation.
My final sabbatical activity was camping (mostly on my own) and then a weekend trip with my wife to Indianapolis. While the United Methodist Discipline says clergy is to have sabbaticals every seven years, I still consider the time away from the schedule and responsibilities of pastoring a gift. I’m appreciative of my congregation who gave their blessing for me to take the time away, the Lilly Foundation for a generous grant enabling me to do things and go places I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, Aaron Taylor for taking on the full responsibility of the church, and my wife for going with me to Scotland and overseeing our home when she wasn’t able to travel with me.
As my sabbatical ended, I wanted to spend time where I would have time for reflection. I knew camping would give me that time. Two hopes fed my desire for reflection.
Catching Up With God
First, I wanted to think through what I’ve discovered over the past few months. I’m convinced that when we pay attention, we discover God is several steps ahead of us. In other words, it takes us time to catch up with God.
When we live skimming along the surface of life, we miss God. When we go from activity to activity unreflectively, we only see what’s in front of us and, at times, regret what’s behind us. In practical terms, God becomes an afterthought, if a thought at all.
God tends to work behind the scenes, bringing things together (See Romans 8:28) in a way that we would find hard to believe if we knew God was doing it! Chance meetings, just-in-time resources, and serendipitous happenings all point to a loving God working in the background.
When I reflect on life, I sometimes get a glimpse of what God’s up to. When I get a sense of what God is doing, I am able to join God, partnering with God to transform the world. In the process, I am also transformed. In fact, in order to fully join God, I must be transformed.
Looking over the past four months, I see God’s fingerprints everywhere. God was leading and guiding me even when I didn’t know it. Of course, I wanted God to lead and guide me. I wanted God to be a core part of this sabbatical. This desire fueled my planning; otherwise, I would have been on my own.
Sadly, many choose to plan and live on their own. It’s not that they completely reject God. They simply don’t include God in daily routines or planning.
The Real Fool
Psalm 14 speaks to this “not including God” approach to life. When the Psalmist writes, “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God (NLT),'” he is not referring to atheists or agnostics. In the Psalmist’s day, that would be inconceivable.
The fool, the Psalmist refers to, are those who know God exists but choose to live (and this is the important part) as if God didn’t exist. The fools say in their heart there is no God. If someone were to ask, they would concur that God does indeed exist. Yet, the fool doesn’t allow God to be alive in their lives.
Before the conclusion of my sabbatical, I wanted to celebrate by looking back and seeing how active God was. I wanted to see God’s fingerprints. Kierkegaard famously said that life can only be understood backward but must be lived forward. I wanted to understand, at least somewhat, the past four months. I knew I needed to be somewhere conducive to slowing down and diving deep. Camping seemed like the best option.
A Word to Live By
Secondly, I wanted to prepare for returning to normal life. While I don’t desire to change what I do completely, I would like to change the angle of how I approach my day, schedule, activities, and tasks. I want to be a husband, father, and pastor with joy and peace. Sometimes the daily grind can grind you. Over the past several months, I’ve realized life doesn’t have to consist of daily grinds.
Life is a gift, but when approached as something to be conquered rather than something to be amazed by, life ceases to be a gift. Over the past several months, I’ve gained an appreciation for God’s gift in creation. Seeing the beauty of Scotland, the wonders of the universe, and experiencing the dry and arid environment of the West reminds me of God’s creativity and love.
When I see life as a daily grind, I become blind. I can’t see the wonders all around. Hopefully, these wonders can remain as I take on a normal schedule.
It will take me several months to discover how much my time away has given me a new ‘angle’ to live by. I do believe I have received a ‘word to live by.’ In the third and fourth centuries, city dwellers would flock to the desert to talk with the desert fathers and mothers so they could receive “a word to live by.” We still need that word today. At least I do.
For me, that word is “attentive.” I would like to be attentive to what God is doing in my life and in the world, to where God leads and directs, to those God has placed in my life, and to the wonder of life.
What we pay attention to determines the direction of our lives. The one who gives his or her attention to God is no fool. The one who confesses to believing in God but pays no attention to God lives a foolish and short-sighted life. May you be wise!