Lets say you begin your time away - vacation, for instance - emotionally attached and mentally engaged with your work. As you being your time away, you are still processing stuff, thinking of things you didn't do or didn't tell someone else to do, all he while you keep saying, "Stop thinking about all that! This is your break!" This goes on for a while, and you slowly win the battle.
Then, somewhere in the middle, you reach the bottom of the curve, where you are finally able to let go. You still think about work and home and the things you left behind, but not as much and it's not as taxing when you do. You have finally let go, disconnected, detached. You rest. Get still. It feels good.
However, as the time approaches for you to re-enter your normal life, you find that you are emotionally engaging again, even though you are physically still away. Think of your most recent vacation and you know exactly what I'm talking about. By Friday, you are fighting to NOT think things like, "Monday I need to be sure to..." or "I wonder if they remembered that we needed to order that...." or "I hope nothing broke or fell apart or blew up!"
All of us have experienced this. It's the inverted bell curve of taking a time-out.
Well, imagine that bell curve was 3 month's long! That's what my Sabbatical has been like. The front end of the curve was relatively steep. It took a few weeks, but slowly I found myself thinking less and less about the details of what was happening at church. I realized our team of staff and leaders had really taken the bull by the horns, so to speak. It became clear that the work was not piling up, but they were actually moving the ball down the field. I wouldn't return to an engine that had been turned off and a battery that needed a jump start. Instead, I'd come back more like a relay runner in the middle of a race. I'll run for a while to get caught up, and grab a baton from someone who's been running the entire time. That has been an amazingly refreshing realization for me - PCC has not just survived in my absence, it has thrived! Honestly, I feel fantastic about that.
But now I'm less than 2 weeks from re-entry. And having been away for so long, there are several things that I begin to wrestle with. This is all healthy, normal, natural. It's a part of the expected progression of the "Time Away Inverted Bell Curve" as I approach September 4.
To be honest, there is some natural anxiety about re-entry. I want to do it well. I want to continue some of the incredibly healthy choices and changes that I've made in me. I want to return as a more healthy leader, a more competent writer, teacher and speaker. Susan and I have a healthier marriage than ever before and my relationship with my kids is better than it has ever been. I want to continue to see those relationships thrive. I have learned some new disciplines in my spirituality that are so invigorating and live-giving, and I want to continue those too.
I called my friend Sammy Williams about this. Sammy is the Senior Pastor at Northminster Baptist Church in Richmond. He's a little older and a lot wiser than I am. He was a recipient of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Grant and took Sabbatical from his church a few years ago. Sammy was gracious with his time and gave me lots of good advice. Hank Brooks and Jeff Boggess, both good friends who also took recent Sabbaticals from the churches they lead, also helped me with good counsel and wisdom.
So, as my mind now begins to flood with a renewed passion for our church and my head is filled with directions and structure, org charts, series and message ideas, new emphases and direction, I am also fighting to stay focused here. I say to myself, "You are still on Sabbatical!!! Get every minute of it!" And yet, there is tremendous excitement in me about coming home. I don't dread returning...in fact, the thought of it is invigorating.
Just so you know, I'm in Colorado today, with Susan - just the two of us - in a cabin at 10,000 feet surrounded by wilderness. A family of Elk moseyed through the back yard this morning. The views are stunning. The peace and quiet is palpable. I'm used to it now.