It has been quiet here on the blog for a few months—about four, to be exact. For a while I told myself it was just a busy season. Then I began to call it writer’s block, which it was. But after reflection and prayer, I’ve come to understand the reason. Though I won’t go into the details here, here’s the crux of it: My soul needed a sabbatical.
A traditional sabbatical is an extended period away from work—most often granted in academia, though more and more companies and institutions are offering paid or unpaid sabbaticals these days due to increasing levels of burnout. Generally, a sabbatical is anywhere from two months to a year, with six months being standard.
Sounds nice, right? Can you just imagine what you would do with that kind of free time? Though it would be wonderful to take a literal sabbatical, few of us have that option. But we can take what I’m calling a “soul sabbatical.”
A soul sabbatical is giving ourselves permission to let go of unnecessary demands or unrealistic expectations—often ones we've placed upon ourselves.
A soul sabbatical is giving ourselves permission to let go of unnecessary demands or unrealistic expectations—often ones we’ve placed upon ourselves. It’s stepping away from “productivity mode,” which our culture instills in us from a very young age.
Productivity is about performance—ensuring outputs exceed inputs and striving for excellence. That may be good for business, but it’s bad for the soul.
When we try to get more done than we have the internal resources for, our bodies will begin shutting us down in one way or another. We cannot continue giving more than we’re receiving and expect to avoid a dry spell—or, eventually, burnout.
There’s a time and a place to be productive, but the problem is that we tend to apply the productivity mindset to virtually every area of our lives. Our culture tells us that if something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing more, better, and faster. We might say that “more, better, faster” is a mantra of our culture. But when we live that way, whether consciously or unconsciously, we wind up spoiling the very things that give us life because we’ve attached unhealthy expectations to them.
Our culture tells us that if something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing more, better, and faster.
See if any of these statements rings true for you:
We’ve all experienced something similar in some area of our lives, but how often do we just “push through,” ignoring the cue that something is happening within us that needs our attention?
Over the past few months, every time I sat down to write a blog article, I found myself unable to enjoy the process. I had thoughts such as…
Someone else has already written about this.
No one will want to read this.
There’s something else I need to be doing right now.
I don’t have the mental energy for this.
These thoughts stifled my creativity and joy. They also signaled to me that something was going on internally, and I needed to pay attention to it. Though a part of me felt it was “necessary” (i.e., expected) to get a blog post out, thankfully I listened to the still, small voice within, which assured me that writing a blog was non-essential and I could give myself permission to take a break for a while. So, I did just that, stepping away from the “productivity mindset” and trusting that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well.” Spoiler alert: It was.
Taking a soul sabbatical is replacing “more, better, faster” with “less, good enough, and slower.”
Be “good enough.”
That almost sounds ludicrous at first. But the truth is, it’s the way to a more fulfilling life.
A soul sabbatical enables us to attend to our souls—and our bodies—while still carrying out everyday responsibilities. Rather than being a full-stop rest from work, a soul sabbatical acknowledges that life goes on and we have responsibilities. We have work to do, clothes to wash, bills to pay, kids or grandkids to take care of, yards to mow, and meals to prepare. Sure, we can modify or pause those essential tasks for a while, and sometimes that is necessary. But a soul sabbatical is continuing essential responsibilities while pausing the non-essential activities that are draining us of life and joy, choosing to lay them down temporarily.
A soul sabbatical is continuing essential responsibilities while pausing the non-essential activities that are draining us of life and joy, choosing to lay them down temporarily.
Here’s where it can get tricky: distinguishing between what is essential and non-essential. It can be helpful to invite a soul friend, spiritual director, coach, or mentor to join us as we discern what we might need to step away from for a time so that we can return to it with a greater sense of freedom and joy.
A good place to begin is asking ourselves a few questions as we reflect on our current life experience:
As we get curious and ask God to guide us, we listen for the still, small voice within. Then, we respond to what we’re hearing or sensing with compassion and kindness instead of judging, minimizing, or ignoring it. We listen deep within and take the courageous steps necessary to care for our own souls. Rather than being selfish, this is one of the best things we can do for the people we love and serve.
It feels good to be writing again—though I know that writing is a gift and not something I can control or manipulate. So, I hold it gently and loosely, knowing that if I need to pause my writing again, it will be okay. I’m grateful for the gifts that this soul sabbatical has given me. It has helped me to
If any of this speaks to your heart, consider whether you might need to take a soul sabbatical for a season and what that might look like for you. Use the questions above as a starting point. And remember the words of Julian of Norwich:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Hi, I'm Sally!
I'm passionate about connecting with God and connecting with people, offering spiritual encouragement and companionship. I'm so grateful to be on the journey with you as we walk with God together.