Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a hiatus, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year).
Have you ever taken one of those stress tests that tells you how likely you are to come down with an illness or get in an accident? Well, I did in the fall of 2012 and learned that I was pretty much expected to drop dead at any given moment. I know that sounds melodramatic, but those tests don’t lie.
In the previous year, I had moved a total of three times (one cross-country), gotten married, and embarked on a long-distance relationship with my husband, who was on rotation for medical school out of state. I now had (lovely! but very new) in-laws. I was telecommuting from DC for my employer in Seattle, which meant long hours at home, alone, in a different time zone from my team. Occasionally I would travel to be with my husband while he was training out of state, bringing my work with me (which was a blessing – but if any of you have ever worked out of a hotel room, imagine doing that for three weeks straight). We were involved in a community church, serving on the worship team and the youth ministry, but most of the women I befriended there were new moms (and if you’ve ever wished for a baby while being surrounded by babies, you’ll know how bittersweet and beautiful that gift of friendship can be). My husband’s schedule was inconsistent and unpredictable, and when he had free time, he wanted to train for the half marathon we had signed up for – something that was exciting and challenging, but also completely out of my comfort zone.
My husband was in the process of applying for Army medical residency programs, so we knew that in the summer of 2013 we’d be moving to Georgia, Texas, or Washington – each of which offered unique benefits, but were so different from one another it was impossible to compare. We had to wait three (seemingly) endless months to find out where we’d be sent for the next three years – to find out where we’d be buying a house and putting down roots as deeply and as quickly as we possibly could before moving once again.
With a year of marriage under my belt, I was so thankful for the time I had with my husband, but was wrestling with a deep dissatisfaction with our home life – mostly because I felt like a failure as a wife. Working from home made it seem like cooking and cleaning and nurturing would be easier, since my office was just upstairs. But the convergence of two worlds made it very hard for me to give 100% to anything I was doing. (It’s worth noting here that my husband is The Most Gracious Man Alive – the pressure to be the “perfect wife” was not coming from him in the slightest. It was all me.)
I dreamed of the day I’d get pregnant so I could quit my job and devote my time to home and family. I was a little bit concerned that these dreams of family were partly a wish for escape. I was working all the time. When I wasn’t working, I was worrying about whether I should be working. The job itself was a great opportunity – I was challenged, encouraged, and allowed a great deal of freedom to do work in my sweet spot (and, hello – in my sweatpants!). In moments of great clarity I knew that the stress and this pressure I was experiencing were mostly coming from my own head, whispered from old tapes that told me I would never be good enough, smart enough, or confident enough.
Worst of all, I had no margin in my life. I worked, I slept, I ran, I collapsed in front of the TV with my husband. No time for interruptions, unexpected phone calls, favors requested. I wasn’t living the life I knew I’ve been called to live.
I longed to do the work I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a very small child – to write creatively. To set my own hours. To have space and time for creative expression, the cultivation of lasting relationships, and the joy of a life fully lived.
One day, while on a business trip to Seattle, I had dinner with a friend and told her all of this. She asked me very simply what I would do if I learned I had only 6 months to live. I blinked. I told her I would quit my job, no question. I’d spend time with my husband. I’d write. I’d visit my family and have coffee dates with girlfriends. She then asked me if I would ever consider taking time off of work, at least for a season. I stared back at her. A sabbatical was a lovely idea. But for me? Could I really? She urged me to write it all out, share with my husband, and pray about it. Why not? (This makes it all sound so simple and rational but if my life were an old Ally McBeal episode, you’d see my head exploding into a dazzling display of fireworks right about…now.)
That night, back at my old roommate’s house, I poured a big glass of wine and sat down to write out my “Sabbatical Proposal Plan.” It included a summary of my thought process, a timeline of activities, and goals for my time off of work. It had bullets and subheaders and was very fancy. I emailed it to my husband and asked if we could schedule a time to talk about said proposal. He (who had actually told me before the Seattle trip he wanted me healthy and if that meant quitting my job, so be it) graciously took this product of manic processing in stride and told me he supported me one hundred percent. (See previous note about The Most Gracious Man Alive.)
Within a month, after working out the details, I resigned after 5 years on the job. It was a terrifying leap of faith. As much as I knew in my heart this was the right decision, I was saying goodbye to a company and to co-workers I had known for half of my working life. No longer would I be defined by what I did between the hours of 9 and 5. When meeting new people I found myself flabbergasted as I described my new situation: “I am….currently not working? Because….it seemed the right time to take a break?” And strangely (though perhaps unsurprisingly) I discovered a newfound sort of internal pressure: to use my free time wisely, to not squander this precious gift, to make sure friends and family knew how productive and creative I could be when not encumbered by a “real job.” I also began worrying that my ridiculously gracious and generous husband would soon begin to resent the fact that I wasn’t contributing financially (especially on those days he returned home and I was still in my pj’s, unshowered, surrounded by books and coffee mugs and no food in the fridge, much less a plan for dinner).
It’s amazing the lies we’ll listen to, no matter our circumstances.
In the weeks and months that followed, I was amazed at the doors that began to open. Now, after a home bought, another cross-country move, a wedding, a funeral, a two-week trip to Europe, several visits to family and friends, and the time and space to read and sleep and think and run when I want to, I am slowly adding to my plate what I choose. (Awesome new job! Amazing friends! Adventures galore! Stay tuned for more exciting details…)
And this blog? It was on the Proposal Plan. Nine months later – the significance of this does not escape me – I am ready to create, to begin something new. Writing (somewhat) creatively in my sweatpants, pondering what it means to find identity as a woman, a believer, a wife, daughter, and friend. I’m hoping to explore where I’ve come from, where I am, and where I’m headed – and what it looks like to live in the midst of all of that, all the while wrestling with the conviction that I am a beloved child of God. My prayer is that if you walk alongside me, my story will touch yours. And you’ll find comfort, grace, and with God’s help – a challenge or two.
Thanks for reading,