When people ask me, “How was your sabbatical?” I am reminded of arriving back in America after a term and people asking me, “So how was China?”
How do you put into compact cohesive words something so deeply transformative?
After searching for the right words, I’ve landed on one that feels closest to my experience. I can say definitively that sabbatical was renewing. If we are acquaintances, I will smile and leave my answer at that. And you may walk away thinking my sabbatical was like a nice nap that simply made me feel refreshed and ready to go again.
But if you’re a friend, one with time and desire to know, if perhaps you are longing for that elusive renewal yourself (with no sabbatical or vacation in sight), I would sit down and tell you what I mean by “renewing.”
Renewal at first is awful.
Renewal is awful because its precursor is release.
True renewal requires releasing something important to you. And that is never fun. It means letting go, releasing control, taking a leap of faith. It means believing that you are dispensable. It means taking a step back for a time, perhaps a day, a week, or for me, a year, and believing the world will go on.
When God called me into a season of renewal, that meant releasing the leadership of Velvet Ashes. Turns out, when God called me to release, he had a plan of provision. Denise has done and is doing an incredible job leading Velvet Ashes.
I knew that true renewal wouldn’t simply happen because I released my ministry responsibilities. The rest of my life wasn’t on pause. I knew that the responsibilities of four kids and a home and life could easily eat up the extra space, and I could arrive at the end of this season without renewal. So I brought this to God and asked him what to do. And his answer was monthly retreat.
So once each month, I released my responsibilities at home and went to a quiet place. And I every time I came back to a house that was standing (even clean!), and my children were fed and happy. Huh. Imagine that.
Perhaps most importantly, I released my expectations. For true renewal, I had to detach from whatever I hoped for or expected next. I needed space to simply be. And that is what led to the next important aspect of renewal.
After releasing comes receiving.
If we simply release, we are left empty-handed. Renewal comes only after receiving from the hand of God.
What is it God wants to give us? There are a lot of things we want God to give us so we can feel renewed – stability, ministry fruit, health, friendship, an end to the uncertainty caused by a global pandemic, perhaps?
But God does not promise to give us any of those things. He does promise us what is truly needed for renewal – rest and communion with him.
“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8)
The nearness of God, the touch of his Spirit, the whisper of his Voice straight to your heart, these are what we need for true renewal. These are what still your spinning mind. These are what clear the clutter in your soul. These are what bring new perspective and true transformation. These are the fruits of intimacy with the Trinity.
If you search #sabbatical on Instagram, you will find a gorgeous feed of exotic travel photos. I’m happy for those who have the opportunity to do that. But I wouldn’t trade that for what I experienced in the small, simple (sometimes janky) Airbnbs just minutes from my home. These spaces of retreat became my holy sanctuaries. They held for me moments of deep struggles to release, and moments of teary-eyed joy as I received his overwhelming love and truth.
Sabbatical may seem like an impossible pie-in-the-sky ideal that will never be a reality for you. But let me tell you that at the heart of sabbatical is this equation:
Releasing + Receiving = Renewal
This, friends, is an equation, a rhythm that God offers to every one of us daily, weekly, seasonally.
Release all that pulls at you. This means your to-do list, your fears and anxieties, and ultimately your false self that is trying to draw life and meaning from something other than God.
Enter the sanctuary of your soul where the God of the universe dwells. This can be done anywhere, all the time, but as Adele Ahlberg Calhoun says, “Solitude is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work.”
Receive the intimacy that Jesus died to experience with you. This can happen by tapping into the desires of your heart, pouring them out to him, and then asking, “What do you want to say to me?” Then wait for it.
Enjoy the renewal that comes from receiving from God. There is nothing else under the sun that compares.
I know that we are a community of women wired to do, to serve, to sacrifice. We are willing, albeit with lots of struggle, to release things for the sake of others. We release comforts, convenience, and cultures. If we are honest, many of us feel that sabbath, solitude, and rest are from that taboo mentality we call “selfish”.
But what if it’s not? What if that’s a lie the enemy feeds women like us? What if these are not self-centered, but actually core components of Christ-centered life? What if being transformed into the image of Christ through rhythms of releasing and receiving is actually for the sake of others?
Some of us believe that. When we make that shift in belief, that these practices are not selfish, but actually other-centered, then the enemy likes to shift tactics. These renewal rhythms become added items on our “should list.” You know, the list of all the godly things we should be doing? They become twisted from the tender invitations of the lover of our souls into shame-inducing ideals we don’t live up to.
Let’s be done with those lies and tactics, shall we? Let’s say yes to God’s invitations to release and receive. And then let’s enjoy the beautiful renewal we find on the other side.
Coming to the end of my sabbatical year, I feel great gratitude and anticipation for my new role at Velvet Ashes. As Director of Spiritual Development, I look forward to journeying with you as we continue growing deeper in love with our God.
I would love to hear…
What do you sense God inviting you to release? How is that going? It’s not an easy process. Share with us so we can support you and pray for you.
What are you receiving from God lately? How has he spoken to you? How has he showed his nearness and love for you? These are my favorite. I’d love to hear.
Renewal may feel impossible for you right now in the thick of uncertainties and closed borders. What do you sense is his invitation for you?
Join us for our next Facebook Live in our summer series! We’ll chat about the joys and challenges of serving single on the field, and how to come alongside our single sisters.