Sabbatical Learnings

I just got back to work this week after taking the entire month of December off on sabbatical. If you’ll remember I wrote a little about what I was thinking going into sabbatical at the end of November. So this is my debriefing.

I went into sabbatical looking for 3 things: rest, reconnection, and the establishment of some new rhythms. I also knew going in that my theme for 2020 was “health” so I wanted to do what I could to get a head start on that.

I didn’t have any real plans. No big vacation to go on, nothing set up ahead of time … no prior obligations. This was on purpose. I know I’ve written about it a couple of times before but if you go into something like a sabbatical (whose purpose is to rest) and you have a lot of things set up ahead of time, then you’re setting obligations that you have to fulfill later that might not be so restful. Which kind of defeats the purpose of rest, right?

What I Learned

While on sabbatical, leaning into the things that I knew I was looking for, I learned a few things. Here’s what I learned:

Rest is a very individual thing, and it can change for the individual

How someone rests, what is restful to them, and the way they go about resting is an extremely individual thing. It is specific to the individual. No one way of resting is right, and no one rests the same way.

Reading books might be restful for you. For me, I’m learning to enjoy reading, but reading is so “restful” for me that it usually puts me to sleep. Like literally asleep. So I’ve got to plan my reading around times when sleeping or napping is appropriate.

Maybe you find watching your favorite shows on TV restful. I do. My rest tends to land there. Working in your garden could be restful for some, while others will see it as a chore. If it’s a chore, it’s not restful.

When looking at rest, it’s a good bet that if it feels like you “have to” do something then that thing isn’t restful. A “get to” activity, on the other hand, is something worth pursuing.

Another note about rest: Your idea of rest can change, and it’s okay. You don’t always have to rest in the same way. Like I said earlier I tend to find rest in watching my favorite shows on TV. I did that for like the entire first week of my sabbatical though, and it grew old. When I picked up a book, I found a new way to rest. And it was awesome.

Connections with the people around you is one of the most important things in this world

Reconnecting with the people in my life was probably the best part of my sabbatical. We tend to be so busy as a family that I miss out on opportunities to spend just talking. I got to do that some (because I had time) and it was great.

We also got to spend time with some great friends over the break and that was awesome as well.

I often forget in my day-to-day that it’s time spent with others that makes the most difference in people’s lives. My introversion is kind of extreme and I really cherish down time when I can find it. But in my seeking of down time, I often don’t remember that it’s time spent with others that will bring me the most life. It’s in that time where I will grow the most, have the most fun, and learn more than any other times in my life.


The last thing I really wanted to focus on was starting some new healthy rhythms for my life. We were pushing really hard at work to get a new app out and I had pretty much gotten off the path of any kind of rhythms that weren’t related to getting the app out the door.

That wasn’t good and I wanted to use this sabbatical time to reestablish some good, healthy patterns in my life. Truth be told, I had mixed results here.

First of all, it’s really easy to get off of your already good rhythms because you don’t have anywhere to be. I used to get up in the 5:00 - 6:00am range every day. I wanted to get in my quiet time and get some writing done before I had to be at work. During my sabbatical I threw all that out for staying up late and not setting an alarm. Which, you think would be fine. But I didn’t prepare myself well for getting back into life after the sabbatical by not following the routines I had previously set up. Getting up and going to work this week has been particularly hard. Part of that was due to getting off my routines and the other part of that was that as a church we were starting out the year in early morning prayer … much earlier than I was prepared for. Moral of the story, if you already have some healthy habits don’t give them up just because you have extra time to make them happen later.

The second thing I learned is that rhythms (habits) are best when based in your identity. If all you have is a dream or a “this would be nice to have”, the habit won’t happen. That’s why most New Years resolutions don’t work. You place all this pressure on your to change yourself to a version of yourself that you haven’t bought into. For a change to really take effect, for a habit to really stick, you don’t just need to change your behavior, you first need to change your identity. “I want to lose 20 pounds” is a great goal and maybe you have the willpower to make that happen. But it won’t stick. “I am a healthy person” is an identity that you can start to change your life around.

In Summary

Sabbatical was great and the things that God said I should be looking for definitely came to pass. I found rest, I reconnected with my family, and I’ve started to change my identity and put some healthy rhythms in place in my life.

If you’ve never taken a sabbatical, or even one of the mini ones I talked about here, then I’d highly recommend that you take one. Even a little break will do wonders for you and those around you.