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My Sabbatical Experience

In 2021 I decided to go through some personal counseling. I had started medication for anxiety a few years before because I was having some physical manifestations of anxiety like heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. By God’s grace the medication took care of those physical manifestations. But I knew that there were likely some root issues that I needed to work through personally and that the best way to go about that was through counseling.


The first few sessions were mostly get-to-know-you sessions. It takes counselors and patients a few meetings to really grasp what is going on and form a plan for how to move forward. After a few sessions, things were starting to click for me, and I thought to myself during a session, “Maybe I need to do a Sabbatical.” After expressing that to my counselor, he showed me his notebook, which had the word “Sabbatical” on it that he had just written down about a minute earlier.


I finished that session, not with relief, but with fear, which is a surprising reaction to the idea of getting time off. But what was in my head at that point were questions like:

  • Can I actually stop working for a period of time?

  • Will people think I’m weak?

  • My dad never took more than five days of vacation in his life. How can I justify an extended period of time off?

  • What if I come back from Sabbatical without experiencing major change?

Thankfully, God gave me the courage to propose it to my church leadership. They agreed that it was something I should do and were interested in finding ways to help others do the same in the future as well.


From December 2021 through January 2022, I took nine weeks off for a Sabbatical. I put together a plan and established some goals to try and make it seem like I was going to get some things accomplished during the time—partially so I could convince leadership that I needed it, but I think mostly to calm my heart that I would accomplish something while I was gone. When I actually brought it before leadership, they said to me:

  1. Erase all the goals you have of books to read, workouts to complete, and outcomes to realize.

  2. Come up with some patterns of activities that you would like to do routinely during the Sabbatical. Do them most days, but ultimately wake up and do what is restful and enjoyable each day.

So that’s what I did. I did it in the winter because my kids were in school most of the day and it allowed me some clear space to do what I wanted without interruption or expectation. I spent time with the Lord. I practiced some breathing and yoga exercises to work on my anxiety. I worked out a lot. I watched history videos because I'm a nerd. I hung out with my wife. And when my kids got home from school, I was around them in a refreshed way. We took a trip to New York as a family over Christmas to get out of my immediate surroundings.

I recharged my batteries, let go of some identity in work, and was reminded of the common grace we can experience in the everyday, mundane things of life.

I ended that Sabbatical with great peace and refreshment. I went back into my job with open hands knowing that there would likely be some decisions made while I was gone that I wouldn't like but that I'd have to be ok with. 2022 ended up being a year that I experienced a lot of transition. Without the Sabbatical, I imagine I would have really struggled to face those transitions. But through the Sabbatical I recharged my batteries, let go of some identity in work, and was reminded of the common grace we can experience in the everyday, mundane things of life.


In my younger days, I thought Sabbaticals were an excuse for pastors to get time off who didn’t want to work hard. As I entered my mid-to-late thirties, humility graciously caught up to me. Through my body and emotions, God revealed the need for some time off, and thankfully it was before I crashed. Whether you’re at a state of burnout or you’ve been working in ministry for some time, consider the idea of a Sabbatical. I’ve not only seen it be a blessing for those on the verge of burnout but also a recalibration opportunity for the healthy.


We’ve created a member resource that outlines the whys of a Sabbatical and some of the dos and don’ts. This article is available for members on our File Share or for purchase.


Have you had a Sabbatical? What has been your experience? We'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.

 

Mike Ironside is the International Program Manager for Reliant Mission. Prior to that Mike was the Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, for eight years, where he got to experience the ins and outs of being a sending church. He served on staff with Cornerstone 2006 to 2022 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Content for the Upstream Collective. Mike, his wife, Emily, and their four kids continue to live in Ames, IA, and serve at Cornerstone.


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