This morning I read the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh (she's a well-known author, her husband was the well-known pilot). The quotation I read was from her book, Gift from the Sea (This is one of my favorite books on the spiritual life. Melinda and I read it together the first time while on a weekend get-away at a B&B in Palacios, TX fifteen years ago. The small book was lying on the bedside table. We’ve given away a half-dozen copies since then.) Her words appeared in the daily devotional reading for May 29 in the Celtic Daily Prayer book I often use. She writes:
“If it is our function to give, we must be replenished too. But how? Everyone should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. If they were convinced that a day off, or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it. As it is, they feel so unjustified in this demand that they rarely make an attempt.
The world [and often the church] does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone. How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside a time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical, or strange.
What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice!
Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer to work out his thoughts; the musician to compose; the saint to pray.
The problem is not entirely in finding the room of one’s own, the time alone, difficult and necessary as this is. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities. In fact the problem is how to feed the soul. I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days; and for part of each day, even an hour or a few minutes, in order to keep my core, my centre, my island-quality. Unless I keep this island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends, or the world at large.”
Several of you have commented to me that my “sabbatical” sounds like a lot of work and more tiring than restful. I want to pay attention to your warning and concern. I am doing my best to see that in the midst of all the activity of traveling and ministry there are built in times of solitude and quiet, time for reflection and renewal. That is important to me.
I am also aware that “rest” is not necessarily “stillness.” Sometimes rest is change -- resting from the one thing that has occupied your thinking and effort by engaging in something else, something different. For me, rest is found in being outside the cycle of weekly sermon preparations, meetings, and the feeling of responsibility that goes with the role of pastor. I am confident that for six more weeks, those elements are all in the hands of competent people, and I am content to leave them there for the time being.
Two weeks from this moment we will be in the air between London and Entebbe, anticipating a 5:30 AM landing, local time in Uganda. That will begin two weeks of engagement in ministry that will involve teaching a group of Ugandan village pastors basics of biblical interpretation (through not one, but two translators), visiting a Ugandan village church overnight where we will conduct a medical clinic and show the Jesus Film, sleeping in tents or on the dirt floor of the church, visiting in the homes of AIDS patients in the villages to listen to them and pray for them, sharing Christ with the sick and the poor, and leading university students in a study of how to understand God’s Word. The unscheduled opportunities for ministry and witness that God has planned will flow around all those scheduled activities.
The rest in the middle of all this will be found in the uninterrupted time for conversation with my wife and daughter and the friends who will travel and serve with us – Pamm Muzslay, Diana, Andrew, and Pat Forrester. Rest will be found in the time with Larry and Sally Pepper, and their son, Adam. The beauty of the country of Uganda and its people will infuse rest into places of body and soul that would not ordinarily receive it, sort of like when you use some muscles that have been ignored for a long time.
Four weeks from today we will be flying from Entebbe, Uganda to Durban, South Africa. I expect to find some stillness during that week, as I support the work of others on our team who will be bearing witness and doing ministry. I’m promised some down time to hang out with Gary Price and to walk the beaches of Durban. I’ll also be using that week to make final preparation for the work in Thailand.
Five weeks from today, I will fly alone from Durban to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ll arrive on a Tuesday and have all-day Wednesday to myself. Beginning on Thursday I will speak once each evening for five evenings to a group of 65 of our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionaries who serve in Asia. Many of these have been doing tsunami relief since December. I’m asked to speak to them about the care of their own souls.
Then, the following Tuesday, the journey home begins. Chiang Mai to Singapore (11 hour layover and, I hope, 6-8 hours of sleep); Singapore to Johannesburg (12 hours in a plane, followed by 12 hour layover and another chance to sleep); then my family and Pamm join me and we make the flight to London and on to Houston.
When I get home, on July 14, I have a few days to meet with some students from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, to reorganize my life, and then, on July 20, three months after the journey started, I will show up at the office and report for duty. Rested? I expect so. A little remaining jet lag may be evident, but that will soon pass. The Sabbath journey is much more about what has taken place inside.
Sabbatical journeys are not only for pastors. The time set aside daily, weekly, monthly, or annually to find solitude, to “rest” from the usual, is the call of God for all his people. “Remembering the Sabbath” is one of the Top Ten, right up there with not murdering, not stealing, and not committing adultery. God knows that we need what only Sabbath can provide. As Jesus taught, “The Sabbath was made for men and women.” God knows we need it.
Finding rest and solitude,