by Peter Johnson

You may remember that I took a forced sabbatical due to a slip and fall accident that resulted in several weeks in a dark, quiet room to allow my broken rib and concussion to heal. After a number of medical tests it was confirmed that aside from being clumsy I am pretty healthy. 

The advice from my doctor: Stay away from roller coasters. My response was simple. “Not to worry. I have never been a roller coaster fan”. My motto regarding ‘terraferma’: “The more firmer the less terror.”

After recovering from my accident I spent the next three months taking an actual sabbatical. This was a time to rest, renew my relationship with God and family, reflect on the last 40 years of ministry, recharge the batteries, and rev the engines for the  next season of ministry. 

3 ways to maximize your sabbatical:

(If you’re saying “in my dreams…”, hold tight and keep reading.)

1. Work. Sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes you have to make mental space for rest by checking things off a list.

At first I was guilty. I asked, “What am I going to do with myself now that I don’t have anything I have to do?” In the beginning I looked for projects to work on. I did some art work. I finished a hallway flooring project. 

But that need to-do soon faded. I took naps. I took walks. 

2. Be silent.

For one week I went on a self-guided silent retreat at a Jesuit Retreat Center in Wernersville, PA* (near Reading). 

They were very accommodating of this non-Catholic in their facility. Along with some extended time in my Bible, and following the daily readings laid out in the book Daily Office by Pete Scazzero, I read a great book that I recommend to anyone going on sabbatical. It is called The Rest of God by pastor Mark Buchanan. 

While it is about restoring your soul through the Sabbath, Buchanan wrote it while on sabbatical and tied in the similarities between going on sabbatical and keeping a weekly Sabbath.

My recommendation: Don’t read it quickly. Read each chapter thoughtfully, pausing to dwell on his brilliant wordsmithing, and then reflect on the Sabbath liturgy at the end of each chapter. Doing that, it took me several weeks to get through this 220 page book. 

3. Prioritize your relationships.

Finally, for three weeks Karen and I got away to South Florida through a wonderful gift by one of our pastors who owns a house just four miles from the ocean. I don’t know about you, but even after 33 years of marriage I am still learning how to communicate well with my bride. 

While our relationship is strong, Jerry Evens**, the District pastoral counselor encouraged us to work through a resource called How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. This book showed us how to move away from unhealthy patterns of communication that we had learned from our families growing up, and begin engaging in a healthy communication dance in what the authors call the comfort circle. And now? We are making deeper connections in our marriage than we ever did before. 

The sabbatical was good. Very good. 

Isaiah 30:15-18 has an interesting take on rest. “In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength. But you would have none of it…  Instead you insist on racing around fleeing your pursuers, but they are swift… Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you, He rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all those who wait for Him. 

4 ways to combat ministry busyness:

Are you in a frantic race of ministry busyness? God offers all of us rest. I encourage you…

  1. Spend time daily waiting for the Lord. 
  2. Take your day off. 
  3. Learn how to take a Sabbath rest. 
  4. And when available, don’t wait 40 years like me, avail yourself of a sabbatical. 

* I highly recommend that Jesuit Center for anyone needing a place for contemplative reflection or a place for an elder retreat. They have overnight room for 80 people. They have areas for silence and conference rooms for meetings. The food in their dining hall was plentiful and delicious. They have an art studio, a library, several chapels and prayer rooms, and hallway after hallway to walk, look at religious artwork, and pray. For a minimal fee I had three meals a day in their dining hall, a room with a bed, a sink, a wardrobe, and an easy chair; and over 200 acres to explore.    

** To set up a time with our Jerry Evens our District Pastoral Counselor, please email jerry@liberatedliving.net.              

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Peter Johnson

Senior Pastor at Hanoverdale Church
Peter has served as an associate pastor in NH and at Montvale Evangelical Free Church in Montvale, NJ. For nearly ten years he served as senior pastor of Northern Valley Evangelical Free Church in Cresskill, NJ before joining the Eastern District staff from 2007-2017. He is now Senior Pastor of Hanoverdale Church. Peter and Karen make their home in Hershey, PA, where Pete enjoys painting (art, not houses), gardening, and talking to his neighbors across the fence.

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