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Greeting the new year less anxiously

Last week I returned to work at The Lutheran after a three-month sabbatical.

My sabbatical didn’t go as I had planned.

I intended to spend 12 weeks volunteering with a Chicago-based interreligious organization. I care deeply about the work of the organization, which plans every-five-year international interreligous events.

The day after my sabbatical began, I reported to the organization’s offices. I met the dedicated staff who make the event possible, pulled a chair up to a filing cabinet, took out my laptop and got to work. I began sending e-mails and (when I could find a telephone not in use) making calls to speakers, confirming their participation and helping them with travel details. Three weeks later I was writing press releases and helping fill media requests for information and interviews.

It was exactly what I thought I wanted to do on my sabbatical.

However, my Facebook updates weren’t the joyful posts of someone doing what she loved — they were tired reflections of someone not getting enough sleep, eating lunch at her desk and leaving phone calls from friends unreturned for days. On good days, I had cereal for dinner at home. On bad days, I ate carryout at the filing cabinet I was using as a desk.

It took me six weeks of volunteering 10- to 12-hour days to realize I was just as tired as before I’d started. My family, friends and boyfriend noticed much earlier, and they reminded me that the point of a sabbatical (and our weekly sabbath) is rest.

With a heavy heart I resigned from my volunteer position. I didn’t know what would come next, but I was sure I needed to do something different before returning to The Lutheran to face the challenges of a new year: a Web redesign and smaller staff.

The daily grind can make us fall into unhealthy habits: eating too much carryout, skipping the gym and taking our God-given gifts for granted. So for the last six weeks of my sabbatical, I tried to create habits I could keep more successfully once I started working again. As I greet 2010, I continue to hold these practices as goals:

1. Be patient: Not having a daily schedule helped me learn to be more patient. I practiced being patient in traffic, in line at the grocery and while making plans with my boyfriend. Since returning to work, I’ve noticed how work-anxiety can carry over into personal relationships. A missed deadline at work makes me anxious; in turn, I anxiously demand commitments to weekend plans I might otherwise have been happy to leave flexible.

2. Eat well: Creating healthy, flavorful meals from scratch takes time and effort. As someone who lives alone, making a balanced meal for one often seems more trouble than it’s worth. To help, while on sabbatical I tried out recipes that could be prepared on the weekend and reheated during the week.

3. Nurture your strengths: One of my God-given talents is creativity. I’m blessed to work as art director of The Little Lutheran/The Little Christian, a job that lets me be creative. While on sabbatical, I realized it had been a long time since I’d done something to nurture this creativity. So I signed up for a wax-working class at an art center and used studio time to spend days devoted to creating. Even projects that didn’t turn out as planned helped me flex my creative muscle. Since returning to work, I’ve enrolled in another session of the wax-working class and have registered for a children’s book illustration course.

4. Surround yourself with those who love you: My two closest friends live in New York and Austin, Texas. Due to our hectic work and personal schedules, I hadn’t seen either of them since 2007. Thanks to last-minute airfares, I was able to make impromptu visits to both. Being among those who love and sustain us in friendship, in faith and in troubling times isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity.

5. See the big picture: Despite my best efforts to unplug from The Lutheran, I thought a lot about its Web site. Not in the way I usually do, with anxious thoughts about users who have trouble logging in, who have difficulty downloading study guides or who leave snarky article comments. Instead, I thought about it in a big-picture way, keeping in mind our editorial resources as well as trends and best practices in Web design.

What good practices are you working on this year? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below. (I promise I’ll try not to be anxious about whether it’s snarky.)

This week's front page features:

PhotodiscTending a tsunami of anxiety: A domino effect of anxiety moving around a group can create such intense stress that no one can be heard accurately.

Taking a page from Book of Faith leaders
: Here's how they encourage the ELCA Bible initiative.

Smelly gifts
: Four-year-olds suggest what the wise men might have brought.

Ramp it up: In Tulsa, Okla., these are the go-to guys for an easier access.

Also: Been there in Germany.

Also: Short on substance, long on fluff.

Also: 'Grace Matters' available.

Read these articles at our front page ...

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Comments

Mel

Mel

Posted at 4:06 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/5/2010

What exactly is "snarky?"

Dee

Dee

Posted at 4:08 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/5/2010

I not only took a sabatical, I resigned my position as an administrative secretary.  I was totally or almost brain dead from organizing everyone's life, so at 62 1/2, I resigned.  Everyone was flabbergasted.  I'm the quiet one that diligently works behind the scenes keeping all the props in order and calendars and reports organized.  I don't grumble, so no one knew I was stressing out.  What a master magician I had become.  God knew.  He kept whispering to me as I told him how tired I was in prayer and in my journal 'Resign, come home and rest.'  I wasn't sure I was hearing him correctly.  I thought it was just wishful thinking, but when the fatigue persisted, I talked it over with my husband and good friends, took a couple of days off, prayed and then came to a decision.  I have been home exactly one month, and did not realize just how tired I was.  It feels so good to know I do not have to keep everyone organized any longer.  I can pursue the reading, reflection and creative avenues that I've been putting off for far too long.  God heard me and invited me to walk more slowly with Him.  I am full of gratitude and excitement.  I feel an incredible love as I walk slowly with my God.  This is my hearts desire.  Thank you Father.

Irma

Irma

Posted at 8:51 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/5/2010

Thanks for sharing so freely and personally.  Many, including me, can relate to your story, I'm sure.  --  In my own journey, this book has been of great help to me:  "Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives" by Wayne Muller.

Thanks for all you do.  May 2010 bring many blessings to you.

 Irma 


Kathy Haueisen Cashen

Kathy Haueisen Cashen

Posted at 2:04 am (U.S. Eastern) 1/5/2010

A couple of years I scheduled a three month self-funded Sabbatical at the end of a term call. The plan was to then get busy figuring out what I wanted to do next--after indulging in reading whatever I wanted to read, going to Israel with a small group, and writing a book. I read a bit. I went to Israel. I worried a lot about the book I wasn't writing. I also began dating a widower so the entire Sabbatical was consumed with getting to know him and eventually marrying him. This led to retirement instead of a new call and adjusting to this new life together. Sometimes God has plans we aren't aware of because we're going too fast to get the memo. Here's to travelling at the speed of life in 2010.

Amber

Amber

Posted at 11:18 am (U.S. Eastern) 1/6/2010

Mel, I prefer the dictionary.com definition of "snarky": 1. Rudely sarcastic or disrespectful; snide 2. Irritable or short-tempered; irascible.

Amber

Amber

Posted at 11:21 am (U.S. Eastern) 1/6/2010

Dee: Good for you! It's funny how hard it is for us to hear the answers to our prayers sometimes, even (especially?) when we're praying desperately. I'm glad you've found some rest and can focus on tending your spirit.

Amber

Amber

Posted at 11:26 am (U.S. Eastern) 1/6/2010

Irma: Thank you for the book suggestion. When we have time "away" it's easier to pursue the goals of sabbath: taking time for steeping ourselves in the Spirit and tending to our bodies, minds, spirits and communities in ways aligned with living in God's grace and care. I suspect I will find Wayne Muller's book a blessing as my life again becomes busier and busier.

Amber

Amber

Posted at 11:29 am (U.S. Eastern) 1/6/2010

Kathy: Thanks for sharing your sabbatical story. And thanks for reminding us to be open to a "still, small voice" that may very well suggest we change our well-laid plans.



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