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Lessons from Sabbath with Lisa Payne

The Sabbath Series in July includes various guests on You tube and Podcast, but also on the blog post. Lisa Payne is a dear friend and spiritual mentor who recently returned from a sabbatical with her husband Steve. Lisa has immense spiritual insight and I know her thoughts will bless many!


When I was in first grade, I had a dainty white wind-up alarm clock that I used to wake myself every morning. I’d join my dad in the kitchen where he polished his shoes daily before heading to work. His morning shoe custom was exactly the length of his City of New Orleans recording, played on a portable cassette player whose temporary home was the same table where my brothers and I would have breakfast before heading to school. That precious morning ritual was the gateway to a time-bound, schedule-driven life.


It’s been close to 50 years of setting alarms, keeping commitments and having somewhere to be. And then I took a sabbatical. My husband (Steve) and I had an amazing, God-delivered series of events that afforded us the opportunity to step away from delivering, producing, committing and otherwise pouring out. We have a wonderful life – we weren’t burned out, fed up, or running on empty. We were convinced of God’s invitation to rest and eager to have intimate, unbound time with Him and each other. The Holy Spirit stirred our hearts and we determined to dwell with God in solitude and stillness.


No Playbook

We had no sabbatical playbook. Much of what I read related to sabbaticals academic (go somewhere else and continue working!), ministerial (three months – often disciplinary!), and professional (goal-driven paid leave!). Not our situation. We are mature Christians – and that’s not a euphemism for “old”. We have been joyfully devoted to service and leadership in our church and community for many years while earning secular paychecks. What should / would it look like to step away from it all and…do what exactly? As eager as I was for an unstructured adventure, Steve and I set out with some specific wishes for this time. We certainly didn’t want to aim for nothing only to “achieve” exactly that! With prayer, advice and planning we embarked on a twenty-five day period of rest and communion with God.


Not a Vacation

This wasn’t a vacation. Like most people I know, our vacations have been a blend of visits to family and full-itinerary adventures in new locales. This was a deliberate, focused commitment to be still with, and draw near to, God. My specific requests of God and Steve were:


· uninterrupted / open-ended time with God

· nature

· exploring new things / places

· fun reading and screen time

· shared time with God

· rest


Admittedly, I dreamt of spiritual fireworks. A voice saying, “This is the way; walk in it”. Spiritual transformation that would render me virtually unrecognizable. As though I was giving God permission to do something good and juicy now that I was going to give him my undivided attention. Thankfully, He reminded me He is: always at work, not bound by my agenda, present in all things. With these gentle yet emphatic messages from the Holy Spirit, I was freed from making this sabbatical one more task-oriented effort. Instead, I eagerly anticipated being in the presence of God for the sake of the presence of God.


We headed to central Tennessee to hike, sleep, read, rest, talk. And to NOT check in, dial in, zoom in. The sheer luxury of not setting an alarm was no small thing. It didn’t mean sleeping late…it meant letting the created body do its thing and start moving only when it was done resting. Listening to my body, enjoying it, challenging it with some pretty spectacular hikes and not treating it as work tool was a marvelous gift. Most delicious was the freedom to read, meditate and pray without clock-watching. In my real and regular life, I set aside extended time on Saturday to really bare my heart and soul in prayer. Since this often means crying, I don’t typically “go there” on a weekday. (Routinely facing colleagues with puffy eyes and blotchy face is less an opportunity to be a light and more likely to be construed as trouble at home.) And no matter how early I start, the press of work makes it feel like time with God is cut short just as it is getting good. On sabbatical, I could go wherever the Spirit invited. And that invitation was to deeper and better relationship.


God’s relational nature has always been compelling to me. I possess deep roots of rebellion and self-reliance. Religious rules and works that provide some people comfort and stability instead create claustrophobia and bristling in my spirit. My effort to be in consistent meaningful relationship with God has been through spiritual practices of study, prayer, fellowship, meditation, etc. Rest has not been one of those practices.


Creating Room

Taking a sabbatical - adding a period of rest - allowed me to sit quietly with God. To let the Spirit lead my thoughts. To settle into God’s love for me. To turn my attention fully to God and be amazed all over again by who He is, how He is and that He is. Rest allowed me to let go of doing, producing, and expecting. It connected my inner being with peace, freedom, joy, and wonder. For me that meant singing praise while standing ankle-deep in foaming waves at the top of a waterfall. It meant meandering in conversation with God with nowhere else to be and no one to interrupt. It meant praying with my husband, amid breathtaking scenery, with gratitude and hope (and, yes, tears. Still me!). It meant savoring the abundant gifts of God just because he wanted me to have them. It meant cherishing the presence of God as though no other gift matters.


The Fruit of Rest

The fruit from this time of rest – my heart is peaceful, my fuse is longer, my spirit is refreshed – is not easily quantified. Perhaps it is also not easily articulated. It isn’t a revelation to most believers to know that drawing near to God just to be near to God is wholly satisfying. And perhaps my brothers and sisters don’t experience my barriers to making that deep relational connection that our souls crave. Yet God still invites us to rest. He knows we need it. He wants it for us. And to share it with us.


I’m reminded of a conversation Steve and I had a few years ago as I was trying to absorb what God’s word says about rest. While discussing sabbath, Steve pointed out that in Matthew 5 Jesus defines an internal standard for us as he fulfilled the Law. Steve proposed the observance of sabbath was less the point today and that because of Jesus we can be at rest on the inside. I countered that I might not dwell in that internal place without practicing it externally first! I am deeply grateful to God that this sabbatical - a deliberate period of spiritual rest and communion with God – deeply rooted rest on the inside. God is always good.

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