First off, I am fully aware that most people will go their entire lives without taking a month-long sabbatical, let alone taking an entire Sabbatical year.
I am also aware that many people feel stuck or trapped with work to a point that they can’t even imagine taking off more than a week – I used to be one.
So please understand my heart in sharing this: I want to shine a light on our awesome God who made this impossible thing possible.
The entire thing was like watching a miracle unfold and I am forever grateful to have been along for the ride.
And one last thing before we dive in. This article is going to be about WHY I took a sabbatical year and in this article I cover HOW we pulled it off logistically without shutting down our business.
How I knew I needed a Sabbatical leave
In 2016 I spent most of the year working harder than I had ever worked and it was like I was going nowhere.
I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I felt like I was doing all the right things, but just wasn’t seeing much fruit.
And in late 2016 – for the first time since I began this business – I woke up on a Monday morning and was dreading going to work.
That was a wake-up call to me that something wasn’t right.
From the very beginning, I have loved this amazing business that God has allowed me to steward and while not every moment has been perfect, in general, I really love my work and look forward to what each day brings.
In my past, I have had some jobs that I have hated and I had to endure some for many years.
I will never forget how demoralized I felt when I was stuck doing work I hated with no way out. I never want my business to take me back to the same place.
In December of 2016, it dawned on me that this was what burn-out felt like and taking a break would be beneficial.
I was only a few weeks away from leaving for our month-long sabbatical (a trip we have taken for the past 5 years) so the timing couldn’t have been better.
I knew how refreshing that trip had been every year and that was going to be my saving grace.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks later we arrived in sunny Scottsdale, AZ and as usual, I completely disconnected from work.
But for some reason, I began to realize that something was different this year.
Before I knew it we were in the car on our way back to Nashville (with a few fun stops along the way).
What does Sabbatical mean?
Shortly after we got back I was sitting at my desk thinking a bit about my goals for the rest of the year.
Right next to my desk I have a whiteboard that I write monthly goals on so that I can stay on task.
So far in 2017, I was right on track:
As I stared at the February goal that I had just checked off I wasn’t sure if I had spelled “Sabbatical” correctly.
After all, spelling Sabbatical is kinda tough and I don’t exactly write it every day.
So I googled it.
The first result was a Wikipedia article that confirmed that I had spelled it incorrectly. But before I had a chance to close the browser window, I read a little further into the article and quickly became fascinated by how they define a sabbatical and what it actually means.
At this point, I didn’t even realize that the concept of a sabbatical was a Biblical idea (somehow it had never dawned on me that it was from the same root word as sabbath).
And, funny enough, it took Wikipedia to teach me about the Bible. 😉
How Wikipedia defines a sabbatical leave:
“Sabbatical or a sabbatical (literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work or a break, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in Shmita, described in several places in the Bible. For example, in Leviticus 25, there is a commandment to desist from working the fields during the seventh year. Strictly speaking, this means a sabbatical would last one year.”
When I read that last line, it jumped off the page at me and it was the first hint that God used to direct me in this way. I had never know that a true sabbatical lasts one year.
The next step of the rabbit trail was reading more about the Shmita (mentioned above).
So I continued my Wikipedia Bible study 😉 with this Shmita entry (edited for brevity):
“The sabbath year, also called the sabbatical year is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle…
During Shmita, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning, and harvesting is forbidden… Other cultivation techniques (such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, spraying, trimming and mowing) may be performed as a preventive measure only, not to improve the growth of trees or other plants…
Chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus promises bountiful harvests to those who observe the Shmita, and describes its observance as a test of religious faith…”
As I read this I remembered reading about how modern-day farmers that allowed their land to rest regularly had much better results than those who didn’t.
The theory being that the soil becomes depleted and the plants suffer and produce less fruit if the land is continuously farmed without a rest period.
This was sounding quite familiar to what I was seeing in the Bible about the Sabbath year of rest for farmers.
Could God have actually given them (and us) specific direction on how to maximize crop yields?
And what was even more interesting to me was that just as land becomes depleted by not having a rest, I don’t think there was any better word to describe how I felt after 2016.
As I was beginning to sense that God was using this illustration to ask me if I could TRUST Him enough to take the ENTIRE year off, my first reaction was panic.
- How am I going to pay the bills?
- The site that I have worked nearly a decade on will dissolve to nothing.
- Everyone will think I am weird.
- Or worse – they will think I am a lazy bum not taking care of my family.
- What about all the plans I had for the year?
- What if we lose our house?
That is just a small sampling of the numerous thoughts and fears that raced through my mind as I began to entertain this idea of taking a Sabbatical leave for a year.
Next stop: talk to Linda
Later that day I told Linda that we needed to talk. A small part of me was secretly hoping that she would fly off the handle and convince me that this Sabbatical leave idea was from the devil. 😉
One of my favorite things I love about being a Christian is all the adventures that God leads us on if we step out in faith when He calls us, but this one was a big one and I was having trouble wrapping my brain around all the repercussions of it.
I waited until we got our son to bed because I knew this would take a little time.
“Honey, I think I might have gotten something big from God today…”
“Oh yea?!”, she said – clearly having no idea what I was going to say next.
I proceeded to explain how I had misspelled Sabbatical and went and learned about it on Wikipedia and I just sensed that still, small voice directing me…
“And so…” I hesitated.
“I kinda think I am supposed to take the rest of the year off.”
I braced myself, not knowing what she was going to say next. It should come as no surprise to me, but she was completely on board.
In fact, God had dropped this idea on her heart a couple weeks earlier (when we were driving back to Nashville from Scottsdale), but she felt like she was supposed to wait until I got the direction before telling me.
Getting confirmation like that gave me a little hope that I may not be crazy after all.
But it also forced me to come to terms with what a step of faith like this actually means.
One of the looming questions being:
How in the world am I going to pay the bills if I don’t work for a year?
I didn’t have that answer yet, but I began getting excited because if God was calling me to do something like this, surely He was going to do something grand.
The next day as I was re-reading Leviticus 25 (where God talks about this whole Sabbath year idea) I got down to verse 20 where (presumably) the Israelites are freaking out at this request God is making to not farm for a year.
“You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.”
God wasn’t calling them to a yearlong fast or to utter destruction. In fact, He promised He would provide enough in the prior year to sustain them.
As I thought about my own life, it dawned on me that the prior 2 years had been abundant years with our business and had allowed us to build up pretty good savings.
Had that been God’s plan for that money all along?
We would soon find out.
How the Sabbatical Year played out
Over the course of 2017, while on my Sabbatical leave, all my fears just slowly faded as month after month, we were able to pay the bills, feed ourselves, and our business didn’t disintegrate.
By His grace, our website continued generating income month after month (just one of the reasons that blogging is the best business in the world) and we made it all year and barely had to dip into savings.
Now that we are on this side of it, it seems like it was no big deal – what was I so worried about?
But at the time, when I imagined all the worst case scenarios, it was pretty intimidating.
Anyway, I don’t want to dwell on that anymore. Let’s talk a bit about the benefits.
The benefits of my Sabbatical leave I have seen (so far)
This has been the second time in my life that God has called me to a long-term (6+ months) sabbatical. And to say that the first one was life-changing would be a huge understatement.
During the first Sabbatical:
- I finally got serious about God instead of just being half-hearted in my faith.
- He began the financial education that would ultimately lead me to start this site.
- I broke off a relationship headed for marriage that would have been bad news.
After the first Sabbatical:
- I met my future wife, Linda, within weeks of returning.
- I made countless friends at church, which prior to that I only had one.
- God started me down the path of my calling.
And really those are just some of the highlights. There were just too much to mention.
All that to say, while I have noticed a few obvious benefits of the sabbatical thus far, I am confident that plenty more is to come.
In the meantime, here are 3 big ones that stand out to me:
1. A complete reset
For as depleted as I felt starting 2017, I could not feel more refreshed and excited to get to work now.
I had grown to despise writing, and now I am loving it again.
I feel like I am starting a business from scratch – with the eyes of what’s possible, instead of all the things I HAVE to do – but with the added benefit of having a huge head start.
2. Lots of little course corrections
In Psalm 139 David said,
“Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”
It is pretty crazy that we can have stuff in our hearts that we aren’t aware of until God reveals them.
I feel like there were a handful of little things that God shined a light on for me to see.
None of them by themselves were a big deal at all, but it was more nipping them in the bud, to prevent them from turning into something bigger down the road.
I much prefer the gentle, private correction from the Lord by taking care of things on the front end, rather than having to deal with bigger issues that they could become later on.
3. Direction for the business
All year long, almost every time I ran into a friend, they would inevitably ask me, “So, have you gotten any big revelation yet?”
To which I would have to reply, “Nope, not yet,” which makes for a boring conversation.
It wasn’t that I felt God had promised to give me some big revelation, but it just seemed to me (and apparently everyone else) that He should. 😉
The reality is that He probably needed to spend 11 and a half months clearing my head of the clutter and revealing some heart issues before He could give me the direction that I sought.
And that is pretty much what happened to me.
Just a few weeks ago, I began sensing really strongly that as I go into this new year He wanted me to share (with you) some of the miraculous stuff He has done in my family’s life the last few years.
He showed me that I have been hiding some of His wondrous works and though I have been praising Him privately for them, He wants me to share some of these testimonies of His goodness for all to see.
“Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” –1 Chronicles 16:8-9
So that is why I wrote this article.
Taking a sabbatical year only could have happened by the grace of God.
None of my planning, strategy, worrying, or anything else could have made it possible.
Nothing but God.
So what does all this mean to you?
Well, for starters I don’t think it means that you should go take a year-long sabbatical (though for some of you it might).
What I love about God is that He calls us to different things at different times, and it would be foolish of me to try to push off this thing that He called me to do on everyone else.
I do know that almost all of us struggle in this area of resting and living a Sabbath lifestyle. And my encouragement to you would be to start praying and stretching your faith in that area.
Maybe for you, it means – ACTUALLY doing no work on Sundays and just enjoying your family.
Maybe it means stretching yourself to take a week or a month Sabbatical and just seeing what God does in your life.
And maybe for a few of you, it will mean taking a year-long sabbatical.
Regardless, I have NEVER heard a single regret from anyone who has taken a Sabbatical leave – regardless of length.
And be warned, whatever it is for you, it will likely seem too difficult or impossible – but that’s good news…
Because if you can’t do it in your own strength, you will get to see God do some awesome stuff!
I have told a handful of people about the whole thing and I commonly got these questions, so in case you are curious…
What did you do all day?
Not coincidentally, about 6 weeks after I decided to take the year off, we had a surprise adoption of our baby girl.
Our plan was to adopt much later in the year or in 2018, but God had different plans.
This allowed me far more concentrated time with our newborn – as well as our 3-year-old – than I otherwise would have been able to give.
I consider myself so blessed that I got to spend all those countless hours with both my kids at such a young age. I will forever cherish that time together.
I spent a lot of time working in the yard. Maybe it’s because I typically sit at a desk all day, but I LOVE being outside and doing “real work” by getting dirty and sweating a little bit.
It actually refreshes me. So I did a lot of it.
One of my big projects for the year was building our veggie garden:
I also continued to spend a lot of time alone reading and praying. I was able to read lots of good stuff last year.
And I was pretty much head chef for the entire year and began honing my skills by taking some cooking classes online.
And one of my guilty pleasures is selling stuff on eBay, so I continued doing that as well.
Did I get bored on your Sabbatical?
Simply put, yes.
But this is exactly what I was hoping for. Our society has all but eliminated the possibility for any of us to get bored. Think about it – most of us carry an endless form of entertainment with us at all times. And if that weren’t enough, it is beeping at us trying to get our attention all day long. Couple that with all the long hours that so many of us work and the demands of family life and it isn’t surprising that most of us haven’t been bored in over a decade.
I haven’t dug into this enough, but I have a hunch that boredom is actually a good thing and that mental space is actually beneficial for us. So that was something I was looking forward to. Just sitting by the fireplace in a comfy chair alone with no device, no book, no agenda – just sitting. Just existing and maybe getting a little bored.
I got to do a little of that, but sadly not nearly as much as I would have liked.
I was really surprised that I felt like I stayed busy without much effort. As someone who has little interest in traditional retirement (because it seems boring to me), I was really scared that I would just be twiddling my thumbs all day and be bored out of my mind.
That didn’t happen at all. Just like expenses rise to meet income, the same principle seems to apply to our time.
The hours were there each day, but they quickly got filled.
Final thoughts on my Sabbatical leave:
Seriously. He has nothing but our best interest at heart. As scary as some things that He asks us to do are, I am convinced that they all work out for our benefit in the end.
What is God asking you to trust Him in today?