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True Rest

September 14, 2016
Benjamin Spalink

I'm back after having taken a ten week sabbatical.

This sabbatical wasn't what you might think. There were no ambitious writing or research projects, no seminary classes and little traveling. Instead, I tried to treat it as one long continuous sabbath - learning to find rest in God himself.  Surprisingly, it wasn't easy, at least not at first.

The first couple of weeks, I bounced back and forth between "this is too good to be true" and "I feel so guilty for not doing anything productive."  I tried to relax, read a little, went on long walks, cooked good food for my family, and went to the gym.  I tried not to think about church, but it was hard letting go.

On advice from my spiritual director, I began a new practice, and this is what really changed things for me.  She suggested trying to do retreats of solitude.  Every day, I would go to the East River, find a park bench and practice silence.  I would close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, get into a comfortable position, and then attempt to clear my mind of all but one phrase, verse or picture.  I started at 15 minutes per day and eventually worked up to 20 minutes.  It was intensely difficult at first - my mind would race, and I would have trouble focusing or relaxing.  After a couple of weeks of this, it got to the point where I could very easily sit for 20 minutes and quiet my mind after just a few minutes.  My goal was to make myself totally present to God, to quiet my thoughts so that I could give my complete attention to Him who is always completely present to me.

Meditating on the exchange between father and elder son in the Prodigal Son parable of Luke 15 proved to be the most meaningful thing that happened all summer.  Being an oldest son myself, and a true responsibility-driven pharisee, I had to come to accept my own resistance to God, to realize that I had been dodging the Father's love for some time rather than allowing him to love me the way he wants to.  Various issues surfaced as I pondered these things - bad habits I had learned growing up, false messages I had received, sinful tendencies of self-preoccupation and control. These things had been stealing my joy for some time. In the parable, when the father says to his eldest, “You were always with me and all that I have is yours," I came to realize in a fresh way that God really does love me, that I am rich beyond reckoning, and that despite whatever shame or guilt I carry, he has in fact never left me and has always been proud of me.  It was a truly healing moment.  By the end of July, I felt reconverted.

August came, and I prayed - what now?  I have this love, what do I do with it. The answer from God was simple - love those closest to you, starting with your wife.  I began thinking creatively about how I might truly love my wife.  What did she need from me, and how might I serve her?  Immediately, the answer became clear: find a home that she’ll really love. Feeling comfortable and safe at home is a huge priority for Christy. I had been dodging this for some time because I didn't want to go through the hassle of moving.  Our apartment was not really ideal for a family of our size and it had certain drawbacks which I won't elaborate on. When Christy came home from work on night, I asked her if she wanted to "quick move" before the kids went back to school.  Yes, she said!  So sabbatical in August looked like this: breaking our lease, signing on a new apartment, taking two weeks of vacation, packing up in three days and then moving - and I would gladly do most of the work because Christy would be at her job. In fact, on moving day Christy left in the morning and came home to a different apartment in the evening!  By God's grace, we were able to find tenants to cover for our lease at the final moment.  It all worked out.

Now sabbatical is over and as I look back over the last ten weeks, it is somewhat amazing to see how much God was doing despite my doing so little. In my resting, God's acting became more visible, God's leading became clearer, and his love became more palpable.  I felt new peace.  I laughed more and felt happy.  So did Christy.  He has moved us to a more comfortable apartment and has blessed our marriage.  The kids are happy and now live within walking distance to their school.  I am truly grateful and feel empowered to get back into the swing of things and quietly submit to God's continued leading in my life.

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Comments

Dorothea

September 21, 2016 8:19 AM

Ben! Thank you for sharing how you experienced God in this time of rest - I'm so glad for the blessing its been and the impact that this will have as you return to ministry with an overflowing of the joy and the love you've experienced. We've missed you!




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