Sabbatical, Rest, and Lessons From the Last 6 Months
This is technically the last month of my 6 month sabbatical.
6 months of rest. I even chose the word ‘rest’ as my one word for the year.
Someone asked me recently how I have been doing my sabbatical.
How I am doing rest.
I had an idea going into this that I could do both rest and productivity.
Apparently, rest doesn’t work that well with productivity. I had a list of what rest was going to look like. As if healing was a linear process that was going to involve creativity and writing and excersize and study and… and… and… by the end I would be well rested AND accomplished.
Instead the last 6 months have involved a lot of take-away food and mindlessly browsing facebook and sleeping in (and yoga once a month counts as a healthy lifestyle right?). Somehow a lot of other people in my life were okay with that, but I wasn’t.
I felt guilty all the time, and when I didn’t feel guilty about not being productive, I felt guilty for the privilege of being allowed rest (workers in clothing factories in China don’t get 6 months off when they burn out!). At about the two month mark I started feeling guilty because I wasn’t doing any better. I was still grieving, I was still exhausted, I still didn’t want to respond to emails.
I felt I had accomplished nothing in the first two months off…
And now we are getting close to the six month mark.
Shockingly I have realised that 6 months in, I am getting better. I may not have been productive in the ways I had hoped, but I have experienced a different kind of accomplishment.
I learned that all of my people can give me permission to be at ‘rest’, but I need to give myself permission too. And not just in theory. I needed to dig deep down into myself and say that if I do nothing, if I am nothing, I am still okay. I am loved. I can be at rest with myself.
I have often caught myself fighting happy moments. How can I be happy when the world holds so much heartache? It shouldn’t be allowed.
I had to allow myself to get off the linear timeline of healing. Grief, loss, burn out, these are not simple human experiences, and niether is guilt.
On Sunday I wept in church because a worship song triggered deep grief, on Tuesday I wept over instagram because this time it was a photo that brought up my emotions. Yet in the midst of all that ‘I’m still grieving feeling’, a tall Dutch man who has been making me happy everyday for a while now (yes I am sneaking that one in there, along with mulitple exclamation marks!!!) reminded me that sadness and happiness are not mutually exclusive. That I can feel heartache and grief over the last year, but I can also feel happy when my friends are giving birth to new babies, or pledging their lives to their person, or when I find myself sitting on my roof with him drinking a cup of tea and just enjoying the moment. I can be happy and sad, all at once, one after the other. Being happy at this moment does not diminish the losses. Feeling guilty about happiness or privilege does nothing to solve humanity’s struggle.
And maybe this is what 6 months of sabbatical has really been teaching me: Joy.
Little tastes of it.
I have never ever really understood what joy means, but I am starting to see it may be grateful-contentment-for-what-is mashed up against longing-and-aching-for-what-is-not. Seeing God in the midst of it. Laying it all out on the table to be felt and acknowledged.
These days are better, not all of them, but most of them. I learned to laugh with a 2,5 year old while still grieving his father and brother who are not with us. I learned/am learning to celebrate my own good moments, while still acknowledging that for others that goodness may trigger their own heartache or missing.
There is no right way to experience rest, but it is an experience, not something I can do, win, or succeed at. Joy is something uncovered, bit by bit, not something I can force myself into.
So this is technically my last month of sabbatical. And I don’t know if I did it right, but I feel as though I learned. It seemed that grace was all over it even when I didn’t recognise it.
So I am thankful, uncertain, but thankful. Still grieving, but joyful.