Why Sabbatical? Plunging into Two Fallow Months

My heart is full of gratitude as I plunge today into a two-month Sabbatical.   This time comes as an immense gift. I pray it will be rich – perhaps in ways that I do not now expect – in refreshment…in heightened clarity…and in coming to share more deeply the heart of Jesus.

In short, I pray God will use this time to help me “grow down.”FallowField

The idea of Sabbatical springs from God’s mandate to the Israelites to fallow their fields every seven years. This rhythm gave rest and renewal both to the land and to those who worked it.

In this, as in all of Scripture, the spiritual and practical intertwined. Or rather, they were one and the same. Fallowing ground every 7th year affirmed that God’s provision – not human labor alone – was the ultimate source of good. Meanwhile, as recent studies show, fallowing improved the quality of soil and future yields.

The same could be said of Sabbatical. Times in which we relinquish ordinary work and achievement point us back to God’s provision as the source of all good. We affirm that what will prove decisive in all undertakings — from producing children to building homes to protecting cities — is His gifts. (Psalm 127 reminds of this in beautiful poetry).  In choosing to affirm this, we are reminded that God is at work even when we are not. We are freed from the ridiculous lie that everything depends on us.

And like fallowing, this spiritual practice carries very tangible benefits. A variety of studies – primarily from business schools – have shown “wide-ranging benefits of sabbatical, and their impact on employee well-being and organizational effectiveness.”   From Fortune Magazine to the ReWork blog, business sources suggest smart employers get more from their team – and for longer – when they provide Sabbaticals.

This is my 7th year with CAFO. I care deeply about this work, and – like most everyone I know in this field – I’ve sought to pour every ounce of strength I can into it. That does not mean I “deserve” a Sabbatical. I do not. Sabbatical is never compensation. It is always gift. But I do trust it will be a rich and meaningful time, hopefully benefiting not only me and my family, but also the work I pour into CAFO in the years beyond.

Of course, I relish the thought of the coming “down time.”  But there’s an aspect of death in Sabbatical as well, much like the emptiness of fallow fields.  The productivity that I often allow to serve as the measure of my days will be absent, perhaps painfully so.  The illusion of being indispensable will be punctured.  Even the narcotic of email (which, like nicotine, is both stimulating and calming) will be a felt absence.  I suspect I may experience withdrawals.  But I trust that God will bring good through all of this — not only in me, but also in CAFO as my tremendous teammates are freed to step up in ways they might not have had I never stepped away.

I would value your prayers in this time as well.

  • For deep refreshment – physical, emotional and spiritual.
  • For sweet, joyful times with my family.
  • For a tangible sense of “growing down” in spiritual life, rooted ever deeper in Christ.
  • For a heightened sense of what matters most – both personally and as I help lead CAFO – so secondary things can be pruned and the most important things strengthened.

I’d like to encourage you, too, to consider what choices you can make – both this week and in the long run – to seek to “grow down” as well. That may include a Sabbatical. And there are many other practices that cultivate downward growth as well. Yes, they are spiritual practices…and immensely practical too. For that spiritual life – growing mostly in the hidden places – is the very taproot of a life lived well for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.


*Photo credits from http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com/2013_03_01_archive.html and http://7-themes.com/6871078-corn-wallpaper.html