In 2023, I started a personal discipline of “living without” a particular activity each month. This has been a helpful opportunity to keep certain addictive practices in check (books, audiobooks, coffee, smartphone), which has created more space for my attention to be on God and what He’s given me to do.
In 2023, I added some new elements to my life: playing guitar at church, playing adult soccer and coaching my son’s team, serving on strata council, and doing a paper route with my sons. These were all completely new experiences for me, and much better uses of my time than the time-wasters I’ve been cutting!
Alas, it is now 2024. I stayed true to my commitment to not purchase books for myself in 2023, but by the end of summer, I think I’d experienced “life without” enough things for a while. While I could try a month without driving, watching videos, eating sugar, etc., these things don’t appear to be major threats in my life.
In many ways, my spring/summer sabbatical served as a climax of this endeavour to make new space in my life – so that, upon returning in the fall, I was ready to focus on adding.
My Sabbatical started in mid-April, after Easter. After beginning with a week-long personal retreat, I had been expecting this three-month period tobe a perfect opportunity for me to forge ahead in my doctoral studies. However, my wife and I concluded that May would also be the perfect time to take our kids on a month-long road trip to see the National Parks of the American southwest. This had been a bucket-list item for years, and the kids were the perfect age: old enough to enjoy it, and young enough that missing school wouldn’t be a problem. So, for the entire month of May, our family vacated our home – staying with friends and family along the way, we visited 10 national parks in California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Montana – in addition to other stops of interest.
Being away from home for a month – I hadn’t done this since my wife and I spent a summer doing missions work in Russia, as newlyweds. Now, we were doing it again, as a family of 5. In both cases, it had a really galvanizing effect on our relationships:
Removed from our daily commitments and regular roles, we were set free to learn, grow, and “come out of our shells” as we experienced something new together.
Of course, being away from home meant taking a break from work – for the most part. As a pastor, I spend a lot of my time supporting what other people do in the church. While preaching is certainly essential to my role,
I consider everything I do to be for the purpose of glorifying God by equipping the people of the church for their works of service and collective spiritual growth into Christ-likeness (Ephesians 4:11-16).
And so, while preaching can be covered by a guest preacher (thankfully, my dad, a retired pastor, came to do that), I found myself frequently checking emails and messages from people back home – making sure that people had what they needed to perform their various roles. Though this somewhat took away from my feeling of freedom while on vacation, I’m thankful for how it set in motion a healthy process of maturation in my church: from that point on, various members became more and more able to serve independently of me – which, in turn, freed me up to address other needs. Now, 8 months later, I look at my church and see a healthy, functional and maturing congregation that took major steps forward, last year.
Finally, while I took a break from home and from work during my sabbatical, I also took a break from homework. The previous year (year 5 of my Doctor of Ministry journey) had been another great step forward – I had interviewed 20 newly baptized believers in my city, recording their stories of coming to faith. Next on my to-do list would be to transcribe them and codify their content according to the themes and connections that I found in them. I expected this to be a long and tedious process, and struggled to discern whether I should forge ahead or wait. But, when I found that a computer program could transcribe my 30 hours of audio files in a matter of minutes, I felt free to receive this gift and set aside further work until after my family trip. Since then, after finishing my Sabbatical and getting rolling again in ministry work, I’ve resumed my studies and have found the codifying process to be both tedious and rewarding. What a privilege to be studying the stories of people who have recently come to faith in Christ!
For now, this ends my year-long journey of withdrawing, cutting, and ceasing from certain life practices…in order to make room for other things. It is certainly an ongoing need – to monitor one’s free time and ensure that the right priorities are in place. But perhaps the cumulative effect of this past year is that it has left me in a place where I have time and space to take on new, positive, productive, and rejuvenating endeavours. Here are a few devotional books that I have started this year:
Thirsting after God is written by the Canadian director of “Christian Direction,” a ministry based in Montreal. Price urges his readers to seek the satisfaction of their hearts in God, alone.
New Morning Mercies is written by American pastor, speaker & writer, Paul David Tripp – offering daily reminders of how the gospel impacts our lives.
The Ignatian Adventure is written by American Jesuit priest, Kevin O’Brien, who seeks to make the Ignatian retreat exercises (Scriptures with guided prayers) accessible for people in their daily lives.
May God bless, guide & satisfy you in this year ahead!