Somehow I find myself over halfway through my 4 month sabbatical. Gosh. Not sure how that happened. I honestly do appreciate how lucky I am to be able to take a sabbatical, and that lots of people in lots of jobs aren't able to do so. Lots of things about it have been truly wonderful. I've never had so much sleep, for one thing! I've read squillions of books. There's a lot to reflect on, and several more blogs to come, I'm sure.
But the thing that I've been thinking about over this past week in particular is this - Who am I when I'm not busy?
Busyness is such a feature of modern life, isn't it? There probably aren't many people around who would say "no, I'm not busy, I haven't got much to do really." And I wonder whether in fact the people who might say that would wish it were not true - for example, is not-busyness generally as a result of being unemployed, or lonely, or in some sort of situation that we would hope not to be in?
For most of us, though, busyness seems to simply be a feature of modern life. Reading through friends' social media posts I see again and again phrases like "I don't have enough time," "I have too much to do," "I'm never going to get everything done." People are rushing between this and that, always in a hurry, never stopping. Adverts assume that we're all busy, and talk about how certain gadgets or devices can save us time and make our lives easier.
Sometimes our busyness becomes a badge of honour, something to boast about - "I'm busier than you!" It's like it's a competition!
Christmas is probably the worst time of year for this. "THERE'S JUST SO MUCH TO DO!" we frantically exclaim. We meet ourselves running around in circles as we try to do all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, buying, planning.
It's easy to get seriously passive aggressive when in a conversation about busyness - "oh, you've decorated your tree and bought all your presents and sent 200 cards and made 3 home made Christmas cakes? Well, good for you. Personally I just haven't had time to do all that. I've been far too busy." (The thing that has kept me mysteriously too busy is left unstated - it is enough for you to know that I am much busier, and by implication much more important, than you are.)
Vicars are terrible for it, let me tell you! Clergy meetings in the run up to Christmas can just become one big opportunity to show off about how many carol services and home communions you've taken and to look down on anyone who hasn't done as many, and secretly wonder why they aren't working hard enough!
It's not just clergy though, and it's not just Christmas. For all of us, at least in today's Western society, busyness feels like some sort of disease. It's a cliché, but it really is a bit like a treadmill or a hamster wheel - and once you're on it, it's impossible to get off.
Now if you've been reading this far and hoping that at some point I'm going to give you The Answer and explain how you can stop being busy and live a calm and peaceful life forever more then I'm afraid you're about to be disappointed! This is just something I'm wondering about and reflecting on myself. Why is it that our society seems so much to value busyness? Why is it that we so often feel guilty if we're not working "hard enough," or when we take some time off to do nothing? Why is it that were so bound by to-do lists?
As a Christian, for me the principle of Sabbath is important. I believe in having a day of rest each week. For fairly obvious reasons, for me that isn't Sunday! (Any comments about that being the only day I work will be deleted!!) Friday is my day off. I try not to spend all of it doing chores! I try to do something fun, relaxing, life giving, joy bringing. My favourite thing is to spend time with friends on my day off, going for a walk, having a meal, laughing and enjoying each other's company.
But simply taking each Friday off isn't enough. That doesn't mean that from Saturday morning until Thursday evening I should work flat out to cram everything in, never stopping, never pausing, never doing anything 'not work' (although I'm ashamed to say there have been a few weeks that have looked and felt like that!)
And then, suddenly, here is this sabbatical this extended 'sabbath' of four whole months! In Liverpool Diocese, this is meant to be three months of 'study leave' and a month of holiday. So what should that actually look like? The holiday part is fine - I'm good at that! There's been a week in Wales, some sightseeing in New York and Washington DC, and next week a road trip is planned! But what about the 'work' time - what should that look like? I mentioned something about work the other day on Facebook and a friend commented "you're on sabbatical - you shouldn't be working!" Instantly I thought "but I can't just do nothing!"
'Work' over these months look very different for me. I'm hoping to write a book (well, half a book at least, along with a friend). I've done lots of reading, and reflecting. The pace has been very considerably slower than normal! Bedtime has been much earlier. I've watched more films. I've gone for more walks. I've gone to the gym more (in that I've gone to the gym!!)
It's has felt so strange not to be doing umpteen church services, being in and out of our church school, going to Christmas meals, visiting people at home. And it's not just the 'work' things' - I've hardly bought any Christmas presents (although I did do some before I left), and for the first time ever I haven't done Christmas cards! There's no food to buy, no parties to host, no meals to cook.
And yet I've wrestled with feeling guilty. I have often felt that I "should be doing more." I've wondered what people are thinking as they read my social media posts - "It's alright for her, lazing about for four months while I have to go to work." I've self-imposed a structure on my days of working in the church office 9-5 on week days,but then if someone has invited me out during that time I've felt like I shouldn't go. That's mad! (It's OK, I had a word with myself!)
What I'm realising is that so much of my identity is tied up with my busyness. I am Kate, I am the Vicar, I am Busy. But not always in that order. One of the themes of this sabbatical for me seems to be about rediscovering who I am. I want my identity to be entirely found in Jesus - in who I am in him, and not in what I do. He doesn't love me because I'm a Vicar. He doesn't love me because I'm Busy. He loves me because I'm me, and because he made me, and because he is Love.
I really hope that my sabbatical gives me the time to really learn these lessons, and to actually embed them into my life. I hope that regularly going to the gym now will mean that when I get back to work I still make time for it (don't get me wrong, I passionately dislike the gym, but you've got to do something!). I hope that going to I'll continue to go to bed at a sensible time (a friend of mine says "I do prefer going to bed on the same day that I woke up"!). I hope that I'll still take time for reading and watching films and having fun and sometimes doing nothing - all without feeling guilty!
I'm a realist - I know this stuff isn't easy to unlearn, and relearn. I know that my first month back at work will be a challenge, as phone calls and conversations and emails fly at me from all sides. I expect I will be busy again pretty soon. And maybe that's OK. I guess I just want to remember through it all who I really am, and what's really important. I think I'm going to be OK with sometimes being busy, as long as I remember I'm not Busy.
To end: a profound Christmas thought...