For the first time in my twenty-six years of serving with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, we as staff have been afforded the luxury of a thirty day paid sabbatical. Its intent is for rest, renewal, and reflection. I had been planning to take my sabbatical, now available once every three years, in the spring of 2021, but as the United States’ response to COVID-19 has led to wide shutdowns or postponements of sporting seasons, I decided to take it from mid-September through mid-October as these are likely the least busy weeks for the coming twelve months. Some reflections on the sabbatical, its shape, and its outcomes are below.
- It took me a whole week to slow down. I normally go at a rapid rate with lots of energy and activity. Dealing with COVID-19 issues had slowed things down a bit already, but it still took a solid week before I had the ability to be introspective and to think deeply about some things.
- That first introspective thought came as I was on a brisk walk through the campus on an early morning, just before dawn. As I approached the football stadium I could see the lights were on. As I drew closer I could see the north gate was open. As I neared the gate I could see and hear players at practice. I walked past, not being allowed inside the university athletics bubble since early August, and thought, “Normally, I would be in there with them, but I am out here in exile.” Exile. I began to contemplate, “What am I supposed to be learning while in exile? What did Israel learn while in exile?” I determined I would read every Bible text I could find written by, to, or for those in exile. That reading was convicting, comforting, and insightful. It was most encouraging when I read this promise in Isaiah 51:14-16. I wrote it in my journal and dwelt on it for days. This text gave me great confidence for what was to be after I returned from sabbatical with hopes to be allowed inside the athletics bubble. (I was thrilled that to see those hopes come to full fruition the day I returned.)
14 The exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his bread be lacking. 15 For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar (the Lord of armies is His name). 16 And I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’”
- It was very helpful to have a plan. Mine was to read several books (reading a couple for a second or third time), and to have long talks over lunch with a number of carefully selected, long-term friends.
- I journaled daily.
- I had a lot of time at home with my wife of forty-five years. Since late February, the COVID situation has had us occupying the same space, has limited my travel – even locally, and then adding in a thirty day sabbatical gave us both a look at what my retirement would look like. Neither of us are ready for that!
- It would have been better if I could have traveled, just to get away from things that can pop up when one is at home, but in this era it was neither wise nor helpful. I would have gone to Florida to stay in a friend’s condo on the beach or to a similarly remote place to eliminate distractions.
- It was also helpful to have desired outcomes. Mine were go gather perspective, that is a sense of where we are, where we’re going, and what is coming in the next years. I had also begun to think about this idea, “If the Lord is preparing new wine for His followers, and I believe He is, we will need new wineskins. What should they look like?”
- I chose books to read based on these desired outcomes. The books are in this photo.
- I chose and scheduled my long lunches with friends based on these desired outcomes. These friends all live in a three hour radius of my home. They included my son, my mentor, my best friend from high school, my present best friend, a couple of pastors, and a friend from the music world.
- Though the sabbatical is intended to be a total cessation from work, I did engage in a couple of unique opportunities with ministry leaders I love and respect.
- I was asked to do a presentation and to facilitate a discussion for Nations of Coaches and I was thrilled to do so.
- I was asked to do the same for the annual PowerUp Sports Ministry Conference and I also enjoyed being a part of that.
If you should be given the opportunity to take a sabbatical, whether three days, thirty days, three months, or a year, take it. I was well satisfied with mine as I emerged with clearer perspective, a sense of what new wineskins look like for ministry in sport, and renewed energy and vision for daily ministry. I would recommend you get away from potential distractions if possible. I would recommend you have a plan and desired outcomes for your sabbatical.