31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
My Sabbatical: Finding God in the Chaos
August 28, 2022
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Eleven weeks of combined sabbatical and vacation, eleven weeks! There was no telling what I could get accomplished in that time: reading some of the many items on my book list or even already on my bookshelf, household projects like weeding my ‘out of control’ back slope or touching up paint around the house; and most of all, what every busy pastor craves, time to be quiet and listen to God.
My plan was to start with that, to put into practice some of the insights from the Farmington Valley Association in May: to slow down, to carve out space for God, to turn every prayer into a question for God, and then wait for God’s answer.
I was looking forward to that and to walking the labyrinth at Holy Family Retreat center. If you have never walked a labyrinth before, I really encourage you to find one. In addition to the one at Holy Family Retreat Center, there is one at Wisdom House in Litchfield, and First Church in West Hartford, right around the corner from Blue Back square, has one in their front yard.
This summer, I even walked a labyrinth in front of the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, which was just steps away from an awesome playground so I had a lot of company there. However, people kept calling it a maze. At Holy Family, they have this great sign that explains what a labyrinth’s purpose is:
Just as the labyrinth is marked by twists and turns, so too is life filled with many unexpected events that can take us in directions that may surprise us and even stress us. Our faith steadies us in the midst of that journey. Throughout the labyrinth walk, we rely on our faith and trust that the winding path truly leads to God, the center of our lives. When we walk the labyrinth in God’s presence, we trust that God breathes new life into us with each step we take.
When I read those words, I felt like they had been written for me – because despite planning on starting my sabbatical with a retreat day at the labyrinth, I was standing there seven weeks in.
Yes, even on sabbatical and vacation, with time off to focus on God, yes, even then, the twists and turns of life kept me from this quiet day with God.
Some of those twists and turns were surprises– like finding out four days before Silver Lake Church camp that we were going to have 23 campers instead of 12. Even more of those unexpected events stressed me out – like needing new tires for both cars and having to repair the air conditioning and replace the microwave. Not to mention one of our cats deciding he was going to start peeing around the house in addition to some health concerns for me – all within a four week period.
Very few of my sabbatical and vacation days were peace-filled, quiet, time carved out for God days, and yet, they were absolutely prayer-filled, God is still speaking, God is still acting in my life days. Like the Holy Family labyrinth sign says, my faith steadied me in the midst of this crazy journey of unexpected twists and turns. Every step, every crazy moment – and camp this year was filled with lots of crazy moments, imagine 23 fourth, fifth and six graders who have not had much “people” time in the last two and a half years and then imagine putting them together in community for 6 days straight, so many crazy moments, and God was there in the midst of it all.
Over and over again this summer, I strongly heard God’s still speaking voice and felt God’s presence with me. Like the first night, Jack went to Cub Scout sleep away camp – without us! I had such a sleepless night worrying about how he was doing, and in the morning, my devotional calendar said, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4). God hears me and delivers me from all my fears.
And I had a lot of fear after my routine colonoscopy that wasn’t so routine as I waited for the doctor to tell me what the next step was, whether I would need surgery or not. I worried a lot, and I turned that worry into a prayer, into a question, asking God – what’s going to happen? and every time, God’s response was, “All will be well. I am with you. All will be well.”
God was especially with me one particular evening when I was worrying about the future of the Church and the future of our church and feeling, as I often do, the weight of responsibility for leading our Christian community in a way that faithfully serves God and hopefully includes lots of people….
On that night I was specifically asking, “Where are you calling us, Lord?” and not really expecting an instant answer, I got up from my comfy chair where I often pray and moved to my desk to do something else, and there was a scripture verse I had copied out weeks before. And in that moment I knew the answer to my question. I knew where God was guiding us and that led me to re-read a book I have owned for 11 years and that led to me praying prayers from that book – prayers like “O Lord, how can I help people see Your face?” and “Show me today, Lord, lead me to the ones you can reach through me.” Which miraculously led to those prayers being answered – in the shoe store where I ran into an acquaintance who had been on my heart for weeks after she called me up to process the death of someone we both knew. And those prayers were also answered outside of the social hall restrooms at camp when a counselor from another group came up to me and said she lived in Terryville and understood I attended the church in Bristol and she was thinking about checking us out for worship one Sunday. She said this and she didn’t even know I was the pastor!
My sabbatical and vacation this past summer did not go according to plan. There were far too few moments of quiet relaxation. Very few books off my list or shelf were read. The slope is only half weeded. The house painting never got done.
While I had hoped for a summer of rest, what I got was a summer of renewal, where despite the unexpected events that surprised and stressed me, I was reminded over and over again, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” I knew the truth of God’s words from Hebrews “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
This connection with God, this communion with God, did not magically happen though. As I said before, it’s not because I found tons of time for quiet or spent hours in God’s majestic creation. I was hearing God, experiencing God, connecting with God in the crazy busyness of life – because even there, it is possible to seek God and God’s word.
And I was doing that by flipping the page on my scripture calendar each day. I was doing that by writing out scripture passages and leaving them in places I often sat. I picked back up a devotional book that I have had for so long I don’t even remember who gave it to me, and almost every day, I took a whole minute and a half to read the weekly scripture passage and read the daily devotional.
Minute and a half, not hours, a minute and a half to immerse myself in God’s word, to connect with God and be open to God’s still speaking voice. It was this minute and a half that steadied and sustained me for all of those other minutes of my day.
As Kathleen Long Bostrom writes, ‘when we delight in learning about God and God’s word, we are much more likely to keep in a good frame of mind, to find joy in each day, and to know that we are blessed. Immersing ourselves in God’s word, and living our faith each day makes us feel alive! We are refreshed!….
And even when there is war and terrorism and violence; even when you yourself are going through rough times, or feel frustrated, frightened, or flustered; you know that you will find your way, because God is with you, every moment. That’s what God promises. And that is what you will discover yourself when you keep company with God every day. (Kathleen Long Bostrom, finding calm in the chaos, pg 200)
You don’t need a special place; you don’t need a special time; you don’t need to set aside hours and hours to immerse yourself in God’s Word and open yourself to God’s still speaking voice.
Just an openness, a willingness, an intention to immerse ourselves in God’s word and keep company with God leads to renewal, comfort, joy, hope, and the blessing of knowing that on this winding path of life, God will never leave or forsake us. God is with us, every moment.