Many years ago, I was gifted a copy of Macrina Wiederkehr’s book, Seasons of the Heart. In her reflection, “The Sacrament of Letting Go,” she writes, “So often in autumn, I want to go lean my head against a tree and ask what it feels like to lose so much, to be so empty, so detached… and then simply to stand and wait for God’s refilling.” I found that to be such a striking image that I’ve carried it with me ever since, and I think of it every fall as I watch the leaves change colors and drop to the ground.
This fall, as I consider these now familiar words, I think of the individual and collective experiences of loss of these past couple of years. I think, too, of the emptiness that so many are feeling after having given so much of themselves over such a long, intense and stressful time. I interact with a lot of clergy in both my personal and professional circles, and I’ve marveled at the many ways they’ve learned and adapted to meet the needs of their congregations in a context they could never have previously imagined. I’ve also seen how depleting and exhausting spiritual leadership has been. There are plenty of clergy who know what it feels like to experience loss, to be empty, to feel detached. If you’re one of them, know that you aren’t alone.
So what might it mean to stand and wait for God’s refilling? For trees, once their leaves are gone, they move into a season of dormancy. Internal processes change and slow down as a means of adapting to a harsher winter environment where business as usual will make survival impossible. While dormancy is not really an option for most of us, there will be seasons where we have to slow down and change our approach to support surviving and thriving in life and in ministry. Many clergy have taken sabbaticals as a means of slowing down and inviting space for God’s refilling. Even if a sabbatical isn’t an available option, regularly honoring sabbath time is essential. Sabbath invites us to rest, to tend to our own relationship with God, to open ourselves to the re-creation and renewal that keep us from forgetting who—and whose—we are. Sabbath makes space for perspective-taking and reminds us that the world will keep spinning even if we stop to catch our breath.
I encourage you to prayerfully take some time to consider what God might be inviting you to as a way of refilling. To that end, think about what you really love doing, what makes you laugh, what piques your curiosity, what sparks your creativity, what invites wonder... Call to mind the people who love, encourage and support you. Think about what is energizing, what makes you feel alive, what gives life meaning. Remember what shaped your call to ministry and the hopes you nurtured when you began. Take note of what you might need to let go of to make room for the good God wants for you.
Allow some possibilities to arise within you, even if they seem a little silly or impractical. Give yourself permission to experiment with how you might open to God’s refilling. (I highly recommend a little silliness and impracticality in there somewhere!) Then carve out some sabbath time for holy experimentation, and protect it like your life—or at least your ministry—depends on it. Practice saying no when needed. See what happens when you say yes to what fills you.
Taking time for sabbath can be difficult, especially when there is so much clamoring for our attention. We often feel guilty taking time for rest or play when we might be needed. But we can’t give what we don’t have. It won’t serve us or our churches to push to the point of exhaustion and burnout.
We are just as worthy of our attention and care as the people in our congregations. Sabbath equips us to live more fully into the life to which God calls us. It’s good for us and for our churches. May you each be blessed in this season of renewal and find hope in the promise of God’s refilling.