This week, I am on vacation.
Though I marked the start of the break last Friday when I left work, announcing loudly to my coworkers still busy at their desks: “I’m on vacation!” I would have had Saturday and Sunday off regardless. So, technically, today is the first day. I have celebrated it by laying in bed an extra two hours, baking homemade blueberry muffins just because I wanted to, and reading the entire book of Ephesians out loud, with feeling, at the dining room table.
When my sister called at 11:13 a.m. to tell me about a job offer she received, I answered the phone and talked for 22 minutes even though it’s a Monday. Because I’m on vacation!
I needed the time off. Really. The last few weeks at work, I have found myself hunched over my desk in a tighter and tighter ball, trying to meet deadlines that keep coming and coming. When I get interrupted, I’m annoyed, even though that’s basically what I’m paid for. To get interrupted. When I come home, I sit balled up over my laptop at the dining room table, blogging and editing and emailing and Tweeting. My shoulders feel permanently curled into a knot.
But not this week. Because I’m on vacation!
Every time I mentioned my upcoming week off to coworkers and friends, they would ask, “Oh, what are you going to do?” To which I answered coyly, “Whatever I want to do.” They laughed.
“Seriously,” I would say to them.
I felt like Napoleon Dynamite when the kid on the bus asked him, “What are you gonna to do today, Napoleon?” “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” Napoleon answered.
Just today, though, when I emailed my friend Judith, telling her about my vacation, she responded, “Sometimes, we forget vacations don’t need to be about ‘doing’ as much as ‘undoing.'”
And that is what I need this week. I need to undo the normal habits of every day. I need to give my body and my mind and my soul a break from routine. I need the Sabbath rest that God built into me when he made me.
During the recent Stefan Sagmeister lecture that Ann and I attended, we marveled to hear of his philosophy about sabbaticals. He showed us a line representing a life. Then, he divided it up. The first 25 years or so are spent in education, he said; the next 40 years in work; the final 25 in retirement. Sagmeister’s theory is to take 5 of the retirement years and intersperse them among his work years.
So, every 7 years, he takes a sabbatical. A complete year of closing down his design business and doing whatever he wants. During the most recent sabbatical, he spent a good amount of time in Bali. He also launched his happiness experiment in which he used himself as a guinea pig to see what makes people happy and began filming a documentary about it.
We, the audience, were obviously surprised. Sagmeister knew it, too. He told us he was scared before the first sabbatical, fearing that it might ruin his career. But the ideas and creativity that were generated from a year away from his normal work fueled the projects he did for the next six years. The only change he made as he prepared for his second sabbatical was to have a better plan. Taking a break from regular work didn’t mean doing nothing. It meant doing more of what he wanted to do and less of what he didn’t want to do.
It meant doing what made him happy.
As I let the Sagmeister Sabbatical principle bounce around in my head a few days, it hit me.
Sabbatical, sabbatical. Where have I heard that word before? Sabbatical?
What Sagmeister is doing is nothing new. It’s actually quite old, built right into Creation order, the day after man was placed on this old earth.
By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.- Genesis 2:2-3
It’s what I needed, there balled up in a knot in front of my computer, feeling like I was trapped in my 6x6x6 foot cubicle. I needed a Sabbatical from all my work.
Sunday, in an effort to step outside “normal,” I attended another church in our city that has always intrigued me, always felt inviting. So, justifying the week off from my own church by imagining I had traveled for vacation and was instead attending a church, in say, Florida, I got in the car and headed South. The church I visited is in downtown Indianapolis.
I pulled up to Redeemer Presbyterian Church and found a parking spot right in front of the door. Surprised, I checked several times to be sure I had not missed a “No Parking” sign or a parking meter that was running even on Sundays. Seeing no such thing, I chalked it up to Providence and headed inside.
The building was constructed in 1900, the stained glass looked original, and at least some of the communion cups contained actual wine – all very different from my young church with Baptist roots in the wealthier Carmel community on the Northside of the city.
The pastor, Jason Dorsey, was finishing a series on justice and mercy, preaching that day from the whole book of Philemon. He used Paul, and his relationship with Philemon, a wealthy slave owner, and Onesimus, his slave who had escaped to Rome, to talk about the need, the people, the strategy and the power for justice.
When he talked about standing in solidarity with those who are experiencing injustice, I felt guilty that when this service was over, I would leave 16th and Delaware and head back to the Northside, not what I would consider a hotbed of oppression. But he had another point: “We are called to do justice where God has put us . . . I am called to bring shalom to the fractured places I go.”
The message ended with a beautiful summary of Jesus’ work on the cross, the ultimate bearer of justice to the disenfranchised, and even as we were preparing for communion and singing a closing hymn, I began to think about the area where I live. Sure, I am just a couple of miles from some of the largest mansions and estates in the city, but I also live just blocks from a dozen or so apartment complexes where gang activity and unemployment are rampant.
And even as I romanticize living downtown and bringing light to dark places, I remember the For Sale sign in my yard, there in part because my neighborhood seems to be getting rougher, more of the houses being abandoned. An idea begins to form as I get in my car, and as I drive toward home.
This morning, even though I am on vacation, even though I am taking a brief sabbatical, I spend half an hour or so researching the Mayor’s plan for adding sidewalks to places in the city where there are none. I write a letter asking that my street be added to that plan, because though there are no sidewalks and the speed limit is 40 mph, many people, including a young mom pushing a stroller on Saturday, walk that road because they can’t afford a car and they have to go to work or buy food or just get out for a while.
When I hit “send,” it feels like solidarity — writing this letter on behalf of others, and it feels like sabbatical rest — kind of like pulling a son out of a well even though it’s the Sabbath, and it feels a lot like something I want to do, after all.
Actually, more like something I want to undo.
Even though I’m on vacation.