The Power of Sabbatical
Updated: Apr 25, 2019
This writer blogs at animann.com - Journey of the Heart: Praying through words and images.
About 15 months ago, I left a full-time job in a Catholic parish where I had worked for the past 5 1/2 years. My work was meaningful, but I had stretched myself so thin that I had experienced burn-out and found myself serving more and more out of responsibility and duty instead of passion. When I finally made the decision to leave my job, I knew that I needed an extended time of rest and recuperation. I needed a sabbatical.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to take an extended sabbatical in productivity-obsessed Singapore - not even if you could afford it. I had been so hard-wired with the need to constantly be doing something “useful” that making the choice to rest and take care of myself made me feel as if I was betraying some unspoken code of work ethic. Even before I had finished serving my notice, people had started asking me what I intended to do next. I realised that many have assumed that I was resigning in order to accept another job offer. It took me a while to realise that attempting to answer their questions was keeping me stressed about thinking what I needed to do next. Eventually, I would answer the “What next?” question with one emphatic word - “REST!”
It was only after I started embracing my sabbatical that I began to realise how tightly wound-up I had become over the previous years. It wasn’t until 3 months into my sabbatical that I began to really relax. And when I started to relax, wonderful things began to happen.
I found myself slowly filled with the wonder of a child and a desire to explore and learn. Long dormant creative juices fired up once again and I found myself entering a season of unprecedented fruitfulness in photography and writing. I was reacquainted with my inner-child and learned once again to laugh and play whole-heartedly. I rediscovered long weekend brunches with my husband, leisurely meals with family and friends, and days of solitude and silence with myself and God. Whenever I bumped into people who had not seen me in a while, they always remarked how happy, rested and peaceful I looked.
Yet all that was only the beginning. The time of rest led to a deep spiritual awakening for me. I came to experience God as a God of healing and a God of rest. I encountered God as an exuberant child brimming with mischief and joy. And as He restored me, I knew with certainty that He was restoring and strengthening me for the road ahead.
In the last 3 months of my 12 month sabbatical, I was led, refreshed, into a period of review of the personal journey I had made in the previous 5-6 years. With the benefit of physical and emotional distance, I could now objectively examine what my past experiences are showing me about who I am and who I am called to be. I gained greater clarity about my gifts and received grace to be grateful for my shadows. I came to recognise which conditions made me fully alive, and which conditions brought out the worst in me. This new depth of self-knowledge was deeply liberating. I felt that I had finally come to know - and love - myself. I have never felt more grounded or confident in who I am.
My sabbatical ended with an 8-day silent retreat and a short holiday with my husband. The message was clear to me during the retreat that my season of extended rest had come to an end, and that I was now equipped to embark on a new season of purposeful toil. Refreshed and energised, I was eager to begin.
My calendar is packed again. My sabbatical is over. But life is very different because I have become more discerning on what I choose to spend time and energy on. I have learned to be an essentialist who is able to say ‘no’ to the many good things that come my way so that I can say ‘yes’ to the things that really matter to me. I have learned to ensure that I have adequate solitude and silence in my life for prayer and reflection so that I have clarity and focus to make the right decisions.
All my life I had learned to work hard. But I have never felt as accomplished, at peace, and fulfilled as I did in the year I finally learned to rest. I am now ready to truly live.