I considered it a grand experiment. How would a mother of two young kids and wife to an entrepreneur manage to take a whole month off to rest? That was the big question.
Five years ago, Tim and I took our first Sabbatical. A whole month “off” on beautiful Vancouver Island. We spent our time resting, unplugging, reading and thinking. I was pregnant with our first child then. It was such a rewarding experience that we decided we would make a practice of having a Sabbatical every five years. Little did we anticipate that this time, we would be parents to a 4.5 year old and a 2 year old, as well as running our own business. We wanted to honour our commitment so we shuffled our lives around and made it happen.
The plan we came up with was this: First, I would take my Sabbatical for one month. We timed it so that my parents would be visiting for three of the 4 weeks. This way, Tim could continue working for most of the time. After my month was over, Tim would have his turn to take his Sabbatical and I would enlist the help of some babysitters so that I wasn’t overloaded at home and I could continue with a limited amount of responsibilities for our company.
We had never heard of anyone with young children taking Sabbaticals before, so we figured we would give it a try. If it could be done, then maybe it could give hope to other parents who want to do something similar.
As I write this, my Sabbatical is coming to an end and Tim’s is about to begin. I’ll let him write his own post about his experience but for now, I’ll share what the month was like for me.
Why take a Sabbatical?
For both Tim and me, being intentional about our lives is one of our values. We recognize that our time, resources and relationships are valuable and we want to steward them in ways that ultimately matter. Purposely pausing in order to step back, reflect and evaluate is part of this process. Having time and space to think is essential. But with the regular hustle of life, it’s necessary to carve out that time and space; otherwise it will not happen.
We decided on our first Sabbatical that we would do one again every five years. We were 30 years old then and 5 years seemed to be a good increment of time for our “checkpoints.”
Personally, taking a Sabbatical at this particular time was especially valuable to me because being a mother to two young children is taxing. In the last 5 years, I paid a lot of attention to my family; it was time for me to pay attention to myself.
For me to take a month off required some juggling. As I mentioned, my parents were in town for three weeks so we
took advantage ensured they had lots of quality time with their grandchildren. I knew that one of my top needs was uninterrupted sleep, so I asked Tim what he thought about me going away for one week – a personal retreat of sorts. It felt gutsy for me to ask for it since I’d never been away from our girls for more than two nights. Thankfully, he was supportive. Providentially, my in-laws had an apartment walking distance to our house and they graciously offered it for my use. For the first week of my Sabbatical, I would be on my own.
After that week, the plan was that I would be home for breakfast and dinner but spend the rest of the day at my in-law’s apartment. However, after my week of being away, I realized that my girls missed me too much (they were super clingy and were having trouble sleeping). I also wanted to have more time with my parents. So I decided to spend only the afternoons at the apartment. Even so, it was a big adjustment for my kids since they’re not used to me being out so much.
The final week, my parents had returned to Toronto, so Tim had to arrange for babysitters for a couple afternoons while he took some time off work and spent the other afternoons with our girls. The transition to not having my parents around happened smoother than I had anticipated.
Being self-employed meant that Tim had to factor in two months of less working capacity (read: less income) when we budgeted for our year. Gratefully, God provided excess for us in the months leading up to our Sabbaticals so that we would not be distracted by worries about finances.
My Personal Retreat
I did not intend to have or expect a particularly spiritual experience for the first week of my Sabbatical. I had looked forward to sleeping, reading, and painting. I had really looked forward to thinking uninterrupted thoughts and eating complete meals while the food was still hot. I envisioned endless hours of glorious sleep. Did I mention sleep?
The morning of first day of my retreat, I moved my things over to the apartment and did a quick clean. As I vacuumed, I thought about how the place needed some flowers to make it feel extra special, like a bed and breakfast. I was amused by the thought that I was hosting myself. Later in the day, I met with my spiritual director (a spiritual companion who helps me see God in my daily life; we usually meet once a month). I told her I was hoping to come out of the Sabbatical re-centered and more grounded. In the course of our conversation, it became clear to me that I was not hosting myself this week – Jesus was hosting me.
I had borrowed a number of books from my spiritual director. Among them was this terrifically inviting title, “A Vacation with the Lord” by Thomas Green. It was an 8-day personal retreat guide based on the Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius of Loyola. It seemed like the perfect book to lead me through the week.
So I was expecting a vacation with the Lord. What I got, however, was more akin to a wrestling match, or surgery. I had asked several close friends to pray for me going into the Sabbatical. By the second day, I sent out an SOS for more prayer because I felt like I was being wrecked! I had decided to go off social media while I was on Sabbatical and being by myself surfaced all my compulsions and addictions. I hadn’t realized how much I sought distraction and how uncomfortable I was simply being me. The healing, however, was realizing that God loved the whole of me – even those parts that were horrifying to me.
To add to my disappointment, I woke up around 6am for the first few days. Where was the sleep I had come for??? Obviously, God thought I needed other things more than sleep. It was not until the fourth day that I managed to sleep in until 10am.
On the flip side, God affirmed the good in me during that week. I saw my gifts and strengths in a clearer way. I was humbled to realize just how much good God had given me. While I’d wept over my faults, I wept even more over my gifts.
By the end of the week, I knew God had met me in some deep and profound places. I had been impacted by the idea that the reach of God’s love and grace is so vast that there is nothing in the world that can land outside of it. In the words of Richard Rohr, “What is, is okay. Everything belongs.” Thinking about my life with this perspective helped me let go of many anxieties and annoyances. (Side note, if you haven’t read “Everything Belongs” by Richard Rohr, please do.)
One advantage of me staying close by to our house was that two nights before I was to return home, Tim came over for the evening and we got to catch up on the week. The final evening of my retreat, my parents came over and I was able to chat with them. This allowed for me to be completely available to my children when I got home; which proved to be a really good thing.
The Remainder of My Sabbatical
Returning to my family was a bit of a difficult transition. The hardest part was seeing the effect of my absence on my children. They really, really missed me. Before I’d left, I’d made a little sticker chart and hidden some stickers around the house along with clues to their locations for each day. Being able to count down until Mommy came home seemed to help our girls. The first couple evenings I had skyped with them but saying goodbye again and again became too painful for both them and me. So I didn’t talk with the girls for the rest of the week. They clung to me the whole first day I was back. It’s now been three weeks and they still cling to me.
I wrestled with disappointment and frustration when I realized I would have to adjust my plans and have less time on my own for the remainder of my Sabbatical. But I reminded myself that, “What is, is okay.” I had to trust that God was at work in me during this sacred time, even if I wasn’t physically apart from my regular life. And I saw glimpses of it here and there.
In my afternoons, I continued with some reading, made some concrete decisions and plans that would help our family moving forward, finished putting together both children’s baby books and even completed a painting. How easily I’d slip into evaluating the quality of my time based on productivity though! So I asked myself, Am I more rested than before Sabbatical? Am I more at home with myself? Do I feel more grounded and centered? My answer to those questions were all YES. So, I am satisfied.
My Sabbatical did not turn out to be anything like what I had expected. But it had all the effects I desired. Overall, this experiment was a success (for my part, anyway). It took planning, some sacrifice and a lot of flexibility to make it work. It was somewhat risky and rather counter-cultural. But it was worth it. Will I be taking another Sabbatical in 5 years? I sure am planning to.