Our church graciously gave our family a sabbatical this summer. Two months off, no commitments or expectations. We are seven years into our church plant, so the timing seemed right. More than that, I think our leadership had begun to see us fray around the edges as we have waded together through some pretty tough years. The dark circles under our eyes were giving us away.
Five years ago we embarked on an adoption journey, having no idea the places it would take us. We anticipated the joy of adding to our family through the beautiful process of adoption, and that has certainly happened. We hope to complete our second domestic adoption later this year. What we didn’t count on, though, was the challenge of raising kids who come from difficult places.
Our boys are beautiful, precious gifts from God. But they challenge the heck out of us. Behind those sweet smiles lurks residue from the places they come from: sleepless nights, inexplicable fear, defiant behavior and not a small desire for control. The parenting philosophy we used with our first two kids just isn’t working with these guys. One of our main desires for sabbatical has been to re-tool ourselves as parents for this second go-around.
Running a close second to that goal is our growing need for rest. A precious commodity that is becoming scarce around our home. We crave quiet and time to think, pray, read, and write. We desperately need “down time.” And we’d give just about anything for an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
I’m sure you’re seeing the problem already. These precious cherubs are coming on sabbatical with us!! How in the world are we going to get the rest we need?!? As we told our friends of our sabbatical plans, we could sense, if not actually see, their raised eyebrows. I’m not sure this is going to work, their skepticism seemed to say. With good reason.
As we hear of other families and their sabbatical plans in tropical locales, with book contracts and even couple time in Europe, we are tempted to give in to that skepticism and despair. Who goes on sabbatical with difficult toddlers?? This is never going to work!!
We’ve tried to be strategic. We’ve taken turns with the boys so that the older members of the family can get time away. We’ve hired babysitters. We’re house swapping with other pastors on sabbatical and spending time in their comfortable homes. We’ve tried to make the best of it. And now that we’re nearing the end of our time away, I can tell you that though it hasn’t been perfect, it has been better than we thought it would be.
But I’ll tell you what we’ve really learned these past weeks. We were mis-defining rest. We were defining rest in the conventional way: time to relax in the sun, read a good book, take a long nap. If that’s what we were after then the raised eyebrows were right. Toddlers don’t make for a restful sabbatical.
But we’ve learned what you probably already know. What we need more than rest is Jesus. More than a margarita by the seaside, more than time to read and write, more than sleep, even. What we really, really need is Jesus. Because it’s Jesus who gives us the real kind of rest we crave. Jesus gives us rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). The kind of rest that gives us help and hope. The kind of rest that actually equips us to keep on going.
As it turns out, these sweet, challenging toddlers have actually made our sabbatical. They, more than anything else in recent memory, have pushed us to run to Jesus. They make us see our complete inadequacy, our stubborn sin, our absolute inability to do this life on our own. And as we have reached the end of ourselves, we have run out of desperation into the arms of Jesus.
And there we have found sabbatical rest.
Now don’t get me wrong. We would welcome more naps in the sun for sure. But we’re learning that the very thing we think we need a break from might actually be our door to God: the very thing that will push us toward the kind of rest we long for (A Praying Life, 57). For us, right now, it’s our boys. What is it for you? What is your door to God?