At the start of my sabbatical last fall I had a plan. (Of course, I had a plan!) I would spend the first month decompressing. The second month would be for reflection. Finally, in that third month I would make some decisions. By the end of my sabbatical I wanted to know these things:
– Do I want to stay in my role as youth minister at North?
– If yes, then what do I need to do to revitalize the ministry and my passion to lead it?
– If no, what will I do next, how will I end my time at North well and what’s the timeline?Easy questions, right? Of course I can get all that figured out in three months!
What was I thinking? Well, my organized-planning-self was thinking that if I stay on task and do the sabbatical “right” then of course I’d reach the answers to all these questions and more. As you can probably guess, especially if you’ve been reading from the beginning, it didn’t exactly go like that.
It took a lot longer than a month for me to decompress. It was almost November before I really felt like my spirit and mind were beginning to relax. And, just as I was reaching that point, my life got slammed with some really sad news. November wasn’t full of planning and answering questions. Instead, I spent that month and the following months (and maybe forever?) grieving a life that I probably won’t have. This time taught me something huge – I can’t plan it all. I’m not in control of everything – even my own life. During that final month I learned that tight fists are much harder to hold that open hands – so I opened my hands and let go. I let go of the planning and organizing and controlling. I let go of what I thought my life would look like. I let go and surrendered because there was nothing else for me to do. I couldn’t fight it anymore. I couldn’t pretend like I had all the answers.
So, I returned to work without knowing what would come next. I just kept showing up each day. I did my job. I loved “my kids.” I showed up. And slowly I started getting some answers. It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t receive some flash of clarity or big revelation. It happened in little ways over several months. Eventually I began to understand what I needed to do. I was still holding on and I needed to let go. So, one day, without much discussion or fanfare, that’s just what I did. I let go. Almost immediately I felt lighter, I felt free.
Today it was announced publicly to my church that I will be leaving in two months. Not only is this the right time for me, it’s the right time for them too. We’ve been together for nine years – we’ve grown and learned and loved together. It wasn’t perfect, but together we were perfectly imperfect.
I need something new in my life. I thought by now that new thing would come in the form of a child, but that hasn’t happened. So, rather than dwelling on what isn’t, I’ve decided to focus on what can be. What can I do to create something new in my life? What can I do to create something exciting and fresh? I’m choosing to create something new in my career. As of right now, I’m still not quite sure what that will look like. I could have waited to leave until I was sure, but I came to realize for the first time in my life, I’m fully trusting in God. I have faith in a future I cannot see. With the guidance of a mentor, I’ve been writing that phrase in my journal daily for a month now. And I believe it. I do have faith in a future I cannot see. There are times I’m tempted to start planning, to get things in order. Then I’m reminded that this time is different – and, as soon as I open my hands again, something else falls into place. As soon as I let go, a new question is answered. It may sound simple, but it’s not – I’m nervous and scared and anxious. And at the same time, I’m excited and full of wonder – I wonder what will happen next? I’m just watching my life unfold in front of me…a true gift!
In the midst of all the excitement for what’s to come, I’m also sitting with my grief. I will have many reflections in the coming weeks and months about my nine years at North. There’s so much to think about and remember, so much. For now though I will say this – being able to walk alongside these wonderful young people has changed my life. It’s not always been easy, but for the most part, it’s all been worth it. I started when I was a few months shy of 29 unwilling to commit to staying for at least 3 years. Here I am a few months shy of 38 and finally able to say goodbye.