I have never done this. I have never stepped off with nothing to do. I have worked steady since I was 16. I was ignorant about how this would play out. My heart told me I would have a lot of time to rest, to recover, to plan, exercise, befriend and play. I have had a lot of time, but I have been very busy, surprisingly busy.
The pleasure in all of this – I have to stop my busy-self and call out the pleasure – the pleasure is being able to engage my family and my children in deeper and more beautiful ways. A coming-of-age party for my eldest, a birthday hang-out on a Friday with my youngest son, a trip to mom’s retirement party with my daughter, a couple’s vacation with my wife, a trip to the zoo with the family on free day, helping my wife’s parents move furniture out of their house. None of this would be possible without this decision.
I did not know where God would lead. I still don’t know. I imagine a thought spinning around me, one I haven’t had the courage or awareness to grasp – that perhaps this is what its really all about, building a deeper awareness, love and care for people. I will certainly get less done if that’s the case. I’m not sure I’m ready to give that up.
I have wrestled with the demons of productivity, from the very first week I was off (I’ve been off for 32 days today). I couldn’t and wouldn’t be satisfied with what I got done in a given day, it wasn’t ever enough even now that I’m at home full-time. Somewhere this has got to be broken, this love of productivity and delight in capability. I’ve loved it all too much.
Some days I have tremendous energy and my power to accomplish feels limitless. I go from one thing to the next, knocking out tasks and making decisions with ease. At the end of the day, my psyche is high. Some of you can relate.
There is also a darkside to this energy. A demonic side that likes to keep me in the urgent, always piling in more, rarely saying no to work or boss or requests from friends because I know I can do it and it needs to be done.
It’s always one or the other, isn’t it friends?
I also like being responsible, it puts me in charge, I have control. Leaders are always in control, aren’t they? When’s the last time your leader said,
‘I’m not sure I know what to do right now, does anyone have any ideas?’
When’s the last time you said that to anyone?
I know its been a long time for me. I practiced humility, but found it hard to actually live there. I’d gotten numb to the motions, numb to the rhythm and the issues and the people. I was tired of the same games, the politics and the lack of backbone (myself and others). I needed change, but was I willing to BE the change? It sounds so easy, until you realize what it will cost you.
We all want the capable and confident leader, the one who’s been there, or at least knows how to get there.
I was given the gift of having ALL confidence and capability removed. I mean ALL. I’m not sure how it appeared to outsiders, but I completely folded inside – depression, suicidal thoughts, darkness, tears. There wasn’t a shred of confidence left, just a smattering of grit to keep moving. One day I came home, dropped my bag at the door and the tears came into my eyes, a thing that does not happen with me. My wife turned to me and asked,
‘When will it be enough?’
I can be a slow learner when it comes to emotional pain. She’d only asked me this 2 or 3 times in the last couple of months. Today, thank God, it was different. She’d given me courage to say no, courage to let go of whether I would be the one to provide for my family or whether God would be.
Before all this, I complained bitterly about how stuck I was.
Now the word is unhinged. Beautifully, gratefully, unnervingly unhinged.
I keep a board at home of all the decisions and actions I need to make. Its my way of tracking what gets done and when. I’ve done this for 6 months now and love the way it works.
About 2 weeks into God’s sabbatical I noticed something. I was still putting a lot of urgent things before the important ones. I was still putting some of my best work into the urgent, leaving the important with only scraps of my time and interest.
After that uncomfortable realization settled in, I started practicing something different, started paying attention to what it would actually mean if some of my priorities truly moved into the space of important things, priorities like my son’s coming of age, being involved in birthday parties and spending some money to take my kids out and do some different activities I knew they’d enjoy, helping with more homework and dishes.
It seemed like a foolish decision to step off a good job like this in my mid-thirties, no alternative in play. I wouldn’t have done it, except that I felt it had to be done. I had to get my heart and my sanity back. I was a mess.
Now, on the other side of all this, the joy is so much greater than the fear. The peace is enormous. The confidence isn’t back, it’s well beyond what I had before. This is the gift of God, a confidence that I will overcome and that he is able, he is capable, and he will finish the good work he’s started.
I’ve had mountain-top experiences before, the ones where the spirituality is high, the sense of God’s presence all-consuming and the pleasure deep. This isn’t one of those, and I’m unsettled because I thought it would be. Maybe this is what mountain-tops feel like to the mature. Or perhaps its because I’m in the wilderness (Matthew 4), and my fast hasn’t led to deepest hunger yet.