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2BC BLOG

7 Things I (Re)discovered on Sabbatical

C.S Lewis once said that most of us don’t need to be told new things, but rather, to be reminded of old truths. This has certainly been true in my own journey these past few months. As I shared last Sunday, I entered into sabbatical with the prayer that God would, in the words of David, “restore to me the joy of God’s salvation.” (Psalm 51:12) It is still difficult for me to distill all of the ways God began and continues to answer that prayer, but here are seven things I (re)discovered in pursuit of God and renewal. 

 

 1. I (re)discovered that sometimes you need to stop before you run out of gas. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I believe the very first #flatjason photo included me standing on the side of the road next to an officer of the law. This happened not because I’d neglected the speed limit, but because I had neglected to stop and refuel. You may remember that one of my sabbatical goals was marriage renewal. Not a good first move. As it turns out, when you’re driving on a turnpike and you need fuel, you really should stop at the first station you see. Another may not come along for a while.       

This is, of course, a good metaphor for life. Truthfully, when sabbatical finally arrived, I was running on fumes. This should not have been the case. I knew my needle was passing “E” but was sure I could push the current tank just a little bit further. Not good.       

We all do this. We all push our spiritual, emotional and physical engines to the brink of God’s design. We all need to be reminded from time to time that our tanks will not refill themselves. We all need to stop often (i.e. daily/weekly), and refuel. 

2. I (re)discovered the power of living gratefully. 

At the end of those first two weeks in Colorado, Jackson asked if we could go back again every year, and Christy said it was “the best family vacation we’d ever taken.” But it did not begin that way. Only an hour after Jackson went to sleep on our first night in South Fork, Colorado, I heard Christy scream. She’d gone to check on Jackson, and he was having a seizure, something he’d never experienced before. Afterwards, he was temporarily paralyzed on his left side.       

As you might imagine, we were terrified. An ambulance ride, a CT scan, and an entire night of fluids later, we were grateful. Jackson was okay, and our perspective on life and family had been thoroughly cleansed. We had fallen into the trap of allowing the struggles in our lives to cloud our vision of God’s blessings. No more. God used the trauma of those moments to bring forth clarity and thanksgiving. Within 48 hours of our departure from Liberty, we were more than determined to hold each other close, to cherish the moments ahead, to live gratefully.  God set the table of our sabbatical — and hopefully, the rest of our lives ­— with gratitude. It opened us up to so much joy. And that made all the difference. 

3. I (re)discovered savoring Scripture.  

When I fell in love with Jesus at 17 years of age, it was the prayerful reading of Scripture that most impacted me. The Bible has always been one of the most powerful tools God has used in my own spiritual path. However, as a pastor, I have sometimes neglected this rich resource  — not that I don’t read the Bible regularly, but it can become more of a textbook or a work book (it is my job, after all). The personal risk here is great.  

One of the great gifts of sabbatical was that there was little need to read the Bible professionally, which prompted this wonderful (re)discovery. I lit my sabbatical candle in those early days and began to prayerfully meditate my way through the gospel of Luke, and as I did, I found that I wasn’t alone. The Spirit of the living God was right there with me, enlivening the text and my own soul.  

4. I (re)discovered the power of seeking and savoring God.  

The Jesus Prayer has been an important resource in my relationship with God for quite some time. It is a Russian Orthodox prayer rooted in scripture that centers us in God’s presence with the words “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” It is said repetitively, in rhythm with our breathing. During sabbatical I used this prayer throughout each day. I used it in the morning to greet the day and ready myself for time with God, throughout the day in an attempt to notice God in every inch of creation, and at the end of the day as a final act of daily consecration. This was my attempt to “pray without ceasing.” 

Doing this seemed to create greater openness and to raise my spiritual antennae. This fostered small moments during each day where I felt the subtle brush of God’s presence. This also seemed to wake me up to particularly sacred moments I’ve sometimes missed. 

I’ve been to “thin places” before — geographical spots where previous pilgrims have experienced an extra measure of God’s presence. Often, I’ve found these places underwhelming — a product, no doubt, of my own readiness or lack thereof. But this summer was different. When praying at the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul, something distinct seemed to happen. Then later upon crossing the threshold of the Porziuncolo Chapel in Assisi, I experienced an overwhelming sense of God’s nearness. In these sacred places, I lingered, I savored, I cried, I sat in awe. Life should not be lived without moments like these. They should be sought, nurtured, and treasured. God is too loving and too near for anything less.  

5. I (re)discovered my best friend.  

I weighed how to write the sentence above so that it didn’t lend itself to misunderstandings about my relationship with Christy. However, as many of you know, Christy and I are living in a season of life when it is easy to forget the deep, sacred, original reasons we chose to be married. Our spouses can become first our co-parent, our co-worker, our co-conspirator and partner on any number of life’s responsibilities. Most of these responsibilities are good gifts of God, but leaning on your spouse as a co-carrier of responsibilities more than a covenant partner in love can certainly take its toll on the relationship.  

This summer, Christy and I were granted a sacred gift that is often rare during this season of life: We spent two weeks together in Europe without our children, household chores, or any duties other than being with one another. For two weeks, we were simply companions — simply Jason and Christy.  

Christy is my best friend. I always knew that, but making space to experience and cherish it is vitally important. After all, life is too short not to fully embrace one of God’s greatest gifts, the sacred friendship of marriage. 

6. I re(discovered) the need for good preaching and gospel proclamation.

In July, I enjoyed the privilege of being a fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary’s Engle Institute of Preaching. This experience was rich. I was enriched by the fellowship of pastor colleagues and homiletics professors, as well as the challenge of thinking together about the craft of preaching. I expected to receive at least a few nuggets of wisdom that I might incorporate into my own preaching, and this certainly happened. I came away from that week with a renewed desire to preach well and some goals to nurture that.

 However, these goals were not the most important thing I brought home with me. Again and again I listened as professors asserted the elevated importance of God’s word, the primacy of preaching in pastoral ministry and the transformative power of gospel proclamation. 

 This was a week of reorientation for me. How do we elevate the scriptures in our lives together? How does my weekly rhythm need to shift so that prayer and preaching are paramount? How might I do a better job shining a light on God’s good news each time we gather as God’s people? These are some of the questions I’m continuing to unpack from my sabbatical suitcase. 

 7. I (re)discovered the value of being fully myself.  

The word “fully” is significant here. It’s not that I spend a lot of time living as someone else. It’s more that the pastoral life is one that is often lived in check. One of my mentors repeats a personal mantra about the activities of the pastoral life: “This is what we do.” He then sometimes follows it with the phrase “Because this is who we are.” To a great extent I agree with his words. However, they also point to a way of being that can be restrictive and even harmful. 

Carlyle Marney once said, “before I am a pastor, I am a human being.” I like this. It is so important for all of us to have spaces and places in life where we can rest, laugh, offer our humor and our opinions — all of them — without wondering whether we will fail to meet someone’s expectations of us and our particular function in their lives.  

Too honest? Perhaps. But perhaps this kind of transparency is more of what this world is actually looking and longing for. Perhaps while we are pastors, teachers, doctors, business leaders and parents, we should all always strive to fully be the human being that God has created and redeemed only us to be. 

Thank you so much for this gift of renewal and (re)discovery. The impact of it certainly cannot be distilled into seven points. Rather, it is one mark on a journey that has marked me deeply. What that means, I continue to discern in the days ahead.  

 With Gratitude, 

Jason Edwards, Senior Pastor

Posted by Jason Edwards at 9:12 PM
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