Midlife Sabbatical is Over
Seriously. But it’s OK. It might even be a good thing …
Wherever one sits on the political spectrum, we all agree that something shifted on Election Night. As with most earthquakes, the pressure had been building for some time but the magnitude and fracture lines were not as predicted. Whether devastated or elated, all are disoriented by the event.
I began my midlife sabbatical four years ago with the goals of rest, renewal, and personal growth, and I have been richly rewarded in more ways than I can count. I have also been “listening for what comes next,” probing a variety of possible callings, and seeking to be of service in small ways while waiting for way forward to open. The waiting has sometimes been a challenge, but the process has always been a joy. Today, though, continuing in this mode no longer feels like “way forward.” Things shifted, and I feel led to re-engage with the needs of the world more intensely. Sabbatical must be laid down for a while.
There is an economic dimension to this. I retired early knowing fully that our assets were only a bit more than adequate to fund our goals for our remaining years. This is still true, thanks to a strong market over the past four years, but I feel less confident going forward. Moreover, if Obamacare is repealed both Diane and I may become uninsurable (due to histories of cancer) until we qualify for Medicare in four years. We still consider ourselves extraordinarily blessed, but rejoining the workforce offers us greater long-term stability and helps us to sustain our giving to the causes we cherish.
Still, the greater calling for me is to apply my skills more intensively in places where they can make a difference. I don’t know what this looks like yet, but the need feels like it just got bigger. My sabbatical has offered me opportunities to engage a bit in work related to youth development, homelessness, and the healthcare needs of our most economically marginalized, areas that now seem more vulnerable and urgent than ever. Seminary classes have given me skills and perspectives that equip me to make new contributions, and now the time feels right to plunge back in.
This means letting go of a few things that I have come to enjoy, especially the flexibility to exercise, hike, meet up with people, and travel when I please—but I did these things before sabbatical, so I just need to work harder to schedule them. I also may feel the need to lay down seminary classes for a bit (I still have 13 left)—I will wait and see how that goes. These seem like small sacrifices relative to the need.
In my pre-dawn reflections today I drew an analogy between the election results and Pearl Harbor—perhaps this event would open our eyes to the struggles with darkness that have welled up around us and rally us to push back the tide. But I also see an analogy to the German elections of 1933, when a seismic shift took place that presaged the horror to come, a time that many came to look back on and ask themselves, “If only we had acted then …”
I don’t want to watch from the sidelines of sabbatical any longer. I don’t know what difference I can make, but it won’t be for lack of engagement.