I intentionally scheduled time at home in Durham for my final two weeks of Sabbatical. I envisioned using these weeks to do all the things that I usually put off “until I have time” and the things that tend to aggravate the slightly obsessive-compulsive regions of my brain. I wanted to vacuum the deepest corners of my home (like under the couch!); paint the baseboards; steam clean the sofa; and clean out all of the closets, organizing them in a way that would make Martha Stewart drool. I went to bed last Sunday night dreaming of indulging my Suzy Homemaker side when I awoke and finally getting around to the things that nag at me when I’m stressed.
It’s now been a week.
So far I’ve vacuumed…but just the regular kind of vacuuming, not the move-the-couch kind of vacuuming. And I cleaned out one junk drawer…mostly. Well, honestly, I just threw away some old candles.
You know what? I’m totally ok with that.
This, folks, is truly a Sabbatical transformation.
In my typical, non-Sabbatical life, I’m a stress cleaner. The crazier my work life gets, the cleaner my house gets. If the stuff of life gets too much out of control, I take it out on the dust bunnies and laundry piles, which I can control. And after a cleaning frenzy during a stressful week, I feel SO accomplished. When my to-do list feels like its winning, spinning myself into a Molly Maid wanna-be makes me feel like I can conquer the world. Armchair psychologists, have at me!
But this week, with plenty of time to clean, organize, and de-clutter until my heart’s content, I didn’t actually do any of it. Could it mean that perhaps, my heart is actually content? Could it be that this is what it feels like to not be stressed by anything in particular (poverty, politics, and civil rights not-with-standing)? Is this what it’s like to feel rested instead of restless?
While I didn’t clean the deep crevices of my home this week, I did do things that honor Sabbath in much more fruitful ways. I slept. After a summer of traveling (having only spent about 15 nights in my house since May 23rd), I truly savored waking up in my own bed after nights of restorative sleep. I’ve had multiple meals with dear friends to reconnect after a summer apart, enjoying my favorite local food almost as much as the good company I’ve been keeping. I walked my dog and remembered why I love my neighborhood. I read by the water’s edge at beautiful Falls Lake while enjoying the strangely cool August weather we’ve had. What was it Marva Dawn said about Sabbath??? She defined Sabbath as ceasing, resting, feasting, and embracing. I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.
Oh, but there’s a catch! I’m much too aware that I’m getting the hang of Sabbath all while not working. In a week, I’ll head back to church and dive headfirst into the fall program kick off, retreat planning, connecting with our new 6th graders, reconnecting with my youth and their families, committee meetings…the list goes on. I would love to convince myself that I can apply everything I’ve learned about Sabbath and myself so that I faithfully and wholly observe Sabbath each week. I would love to tell you that I’ve cracked the code and figured out how to Sabbath without guilt or anxiety about all that isn’t getting done. I so wish that my stress cleaning days were a thing of the past and that I’ll be able to leave the vacuuming in favor of resting and feasting. But I’m a little too realistic to believe those lovely thoughts.
The truth is I’m not going to get Sabbath right every week. In reality, I’m sure my house will get a thorough cleaning during the coming stressful weeks of fall programming at church. Honestly, guilt and anxiety will plague me at first when I don’t check email for a day each week.
However, I’m really excited to practice Sabbath back in the “real world” that includes work, obligations, and stress. Practicing Sabbath means trying really hard to get it right and accepting grace when I don’t. It means planning and sticking to a weekly schedule that allows for a day oriented away from work and toward the holy. For me, it means putting a greater focus on feasting and embracing with friends and family and lessening the accomplishment I feel after destroying a to-do list.
But what will I have to show for keeping Sabbath each week? If this week is any indication I’ll have less stress, a restful spirit and a rested body, deeper relationships, and a lens that helps me appreciate the world around me and the many gifts from God.
And Martha Stewart, I’ll take all of that over a clean house any day.