Sabbaticalogue Wk. 4 – Doing Nothing Can Be the Hardest Kind of Something
Some people have told me that a sabbatical sounds so “spiritual,” a.k.a. “boring.” “So, what do you do, sit around and pray all day?” Not that praying is necessarily boring, although I have experienced my fair share of boring prayers (offered by me). No, a sabbatical is not just a time to pray but also a time to play.
Hence, the pic of Laura and me on the beach in Marco Island . . . and, yes, it’s gloriously hot. One of the many lessons I’ve been learning about a sabbatical is that it shouldn’t be limited to “professional” clergy. Not all Christians may have an opportunity to take an extended time of rest, renewal, and recalibration, but the concept of sabbatical should exist in the weekly rhythm of our lives.
John Ortberg calls this, Soul Keeping, building into our daily and weekly routine ways for us to keep our souls healthy and refreshed. In his book by the same title, he reminds us that in the 23rdPsalm, God “makes me lie down in green pastures.” He doesn’t invite us to lie down. He doesn’t request us to lie down. He makes us lie down.
Many of us remember the nights when our children simply didn’t want to go to bed, and eventually, we had to make them lie down. Ortberg asks, “Is it bedtime for your soul?”
How good are you at doing nothing? I’ve found that doing nothing can be the hardest kind of “something.” How long can you sit still in a chair doing nothing? You’re simply “being”—still, at peace, in silence, in solitude. I struggle with doing nothing because I feel guilty. I feel like I’m unproductive, and if I’m not producing something (like a sermon, book, or staff meeting), then I’m not valued, a.k.a. “important.”
According to Ortberg, “The capacity to do nothing is actually evidence of a lot of spiritual growth.” Centuries ago, Blaise Pascal wrote, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.”
Yes, doing nothing should lead to something. We don’t slip into a black hole of “nothingness” as God makes us lie down in green pastures. But we come apart from the busyness which can often lead to hurriedness in order for our souls to find healing and rest. Vance Havner once wrote about the need for soul rest: “If you don’t come apart for a while, you will come apart in a while.”
Perhaps your life circumstances make a two- or three-month sabbatical an impossibility, but nothing in life should keep you from “sabbathing” on a weekly basis. Find a rhythm that works for you. Join in the work of God who makes you lie down in green pastures and leads you beside still waters to restore your soul.
And when you practice the discipline of doing nothing, you will discover that God is up to something.