Several weeks ago my husband began a six-week sabbatical from his full-time position as a Lutheran cantor at a large LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) congregation in the western Chicago suburbs. This break couldn't have been timed better, coming at the end of a year that has in many ways been the most draining and difficult our family has ever experienced. I am grateful to our parish and its leaders, who obviously take to heart their calling to care for their workers and have thus made this time possible as a benefit of my husband's more than eight years of service to this congregation. Not only is my husband profiting from the opportunity to rest, reflect, and recharge, but the entire family is as well. In many ways we are rediscovering each other and the meaning of family time, something that has too often been neglected due to the daily demands of the schedule and the ever-present "tyranny of the urgent."
So what is my husband doing with his sabbatical? His number one goal has been to spend some time taking care of himself physically, mentally, and spiritually, things that too often get set aside so that he can tend to the needs of others. Ultimately, of course, the care of self will benefit those he so faithfully serves in his various vocations, because a refreshed husband, father, and cantor is a better husband, father, and cantor. But in many ways those benefits to others are already materializing. The "honey-do" list is shrinking by the day (although I seem to have no trouble finding something to add for everything that gets crossed off). The garden is planted and daily being cared for (and I have contributed very little to either effort). We have played more family games and watched more family movies than we have in many months. And my four-year-old no longer defaults to calling "Mommy" when he needs something but is now regularly calling "Daddy" as well. I think this may be the sweetest result of all.
Not only is our family already enjoying the rewards of this sabbatical, but work is being done that will ultimately serve our congregation as well as the church at large. Later this summer my husband will give one of the keynote addresses at our church body's national music and worship conference; this time is affording him the opportunity to focus on what he wants to say. He is also utilizing his freedom from his usual Sunday responsibilities to visit other LCMS parishes, getting a look at what is going on beyond our own walls (a look which is not always encouraging). His current research, along with his many years as a Lutheran cantor, seems more destined than ever to be headed for a book on music and worship. As if those two things weren't enough, there is also his behind the scenes contributions to the grassroots organization of a new Lutheran layman's organization, his online music publishing site (Liturgy Solutions), which has been neglected for a few months but is now getting some TLC, and his initial composing on several recently commissioned hymn concertati.
And he calls this a sabbatical? Indeed it is. It has been wonderful, in spite of my own fears early on that somehow it was too good to be true, that somehow it would all come and go and be a distant memory, with nothing changed and nothing to show for the time off.
I still have that fear. I have quickly gotten used to having my best friend around more often than not, ready to encourage when I am feeling overwhelmed and help with all that is waiting to be done. I have worried more than once about what will happen four weeks from now, when things return to "normal," and especially about what will happen in approximately three months, when not just the sabbatical but the summer slowdown ends and the fullness of life returns in earnest. Leave it to me, the consummate worrier, to turn something as wonderful as a sabbatical into a new cause of angst. I keep thinking, how did I ever do this all by myself? If I am still this busy now, with my husband home 24/7, what is going to become of us when he is gone again and I am back to doing so much on my own?
My wise husband reminds me that I need to keep things in perspective--that we are coming out of a year unlike any other, one which included my mother's recovery and rehab from a severe car accident and his completion of a 3-year composition project while taking 10 hours of post-graduate coursework. He reminds me that this sabbatical is all about recovering from the last leg of this marathon that is our life and getting in shape for the next one, which he assures me will be better and easier. There is no person alive that I think is smarter or that I trust more than him. So I'm going to try my best to stop worrying and simply enjoy the ride. Today he's here. Tomorrow, too. And for four more weeks.