How Was Your Sabbatical?

How Was Your Sabbatical?

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?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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.


  1. Ruth July 21, 2020

    This is such a helpful equation (and usually I hate things that feel simplistic)! I concluded my service in China due to a bunch of factors, but made that decision once I had left for Chinese New Year/COVID. So I’m working on releasing my whole life in China from afar. I’m not sure what is coming next for me–I think it is going to be a long job search because I have something really specific. So I’ve been tossing around the idea that this in-between time is sort of like a sabbatical or renewal time (it also feels like I need that). This helps me to think through how to make this a true time of renewal.

    1. Danielle Wheeler July 22, 2020

      Ruth, yes, there is so much grief in releasing. And I know the deep grief of releasing life in China… I love that you are sensing God’s invitation for this season. That is so like God to take what could be a season gripped with fear of an unknown future and turn it into a season of rest, healing, and renewal (knowing that he holds you when it vacillates between the two). I trust he is going to lead you into the depths of his love.

  2. Michele July 21, 2020

    I am right in the middle of Michelle DeRusha’s ‘True You’, and much of what you said is right in line with the message of the book and the experience she shares. I have been trying to take advantage of this quarantine situation to let God speak and do whatever work He wants to do in me. I’ve seen areas of control I don’t know if I would have otherwise seen and have been releasing day by day. I’m now looking at the possibility of returning to America next month to homeschool my grandniece since her school has decided to go all online this semester- which means letting go of having my own space and the community I love so much here. I’m just realizing how all this solitude has been preparing me for this step, one I would not have imagined till recently. Thanks for sharing your story, Danielle! It’s good to “hear your voice” again! 🙂

    1. Danielle Wheeler July 22, 2020

      Michele, it’s so good to connect again. “True You” was one of my many sabbatical reads! Such a good book.

      Your attitude of release is beautiful to behold. And isn’t it truly amazing the deep heart work he does during solitude?! Thanks for sharing where you are at, here on the brink of major possible change. We’re here to listen along the journey as he leads you.

  3. Phyllis July 22, 2020

    Thank you for this! I am also coming out of a kind of sabbatical now. I didn’t go into it intentionally (it was cancer), and I don’t feel ready to come out, but I’ve had to. Your words here are giving me a framework for looking back, and I hope they’ll help with going forward, too.

    I was thinking about your retreats, and wishing that I could have had something like that, and then it stuck me: I did! Every 3 weeks I travelled for treatment. “Janky.” Hah. Yes, long miserable train trips, youth hostels when I felt AWFUL, sometimes alone, sometimes with a family member or my friend there giving me her day to keep me company.Those were my retreats. I had lots of time to pray and be with God.

    I definitely released a lot over the past year. And in the end I did receive health. (Thank you, God!) I received incredible joy through all the hard times. But renewal… where is it? Here I am needing to “get back to work,” and I just feel empty….

  4. Danielle Wheeler July 22, 2020

    Oh Phyllis… I’m glad for the update that you have received health. And your perspective on your treatments/retreats is incredible. Truly only God can give that perspective. I’m asking that he meet that empty well and fill and restore it with his touch.

      1. Michele July 23, 2020

        Praying for good news, Phyllis! And praying for your heart also- that you would feel the renewal that has taken place!

      2. Danielle Wheeler July 23, 2020

        Praising and rejoicing with you, Phyllis! And pausing now to pray for you…

  5. Katie Rouse July 22, 2020

    Wow, I love this so much. Thank you for sharing these simple, but profound, thoughts. I love that this equation is available to me every single day, right where I am, even if it’s where I don’t always want to be. He meets us there anyway. Thank you thank you!

    1. Danielle Wheeler July 23, 2020

      Yes! This is the beauty and mystery and miracle of the Holy Spirit. So glad this resonated, Katie.

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