For years I have been part of a group called The Young Clergy Women Project. We are clergy in our 20’s and 30’s who support, encourage, and journey with each other in our ministry. And yesterday, they published this piece that I wrote.
A Sabbatical of Sorts
While I was in seminary, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, The Preaching Life. In the chapter about call, she shares the story of asking God what she was supposed to do with her life. It is a question I’ve asked God multiple times in my life. The answer she heard and the part of this story that has stayed with me for years was “do anything that pleases you and belong to me.” This phrase has been a source of comfort and inspiration in my ten years of ordained ministry. It was easy for me to feel like I was applying this idea to my life and helping others apply it to their lives while I was serving congregations as their pastor.
Now, I find myself as a young clergy woman without a congregation. It’s been a sabbatical of sorts. There are days when I feel like I am wandering in the wilderness while wondering, Where is God calling me next? How will my gifts be used? What do I do in this time of waiting?
If God says “do anything that pleases you and belong to me,” what does this look like for those of us who are not employed? It can feel like freedom; no matter where we go God is there. Whatever we are doing—paid or not—we still belong to God. It can feel vast and overwhelming because nothing is limiting us except our imaginations, and that is scary. Add to this time of unemployment any other major life events like moving to another state, as I did, and it becomes even more perplexing. What does “do anything” look like when your whole landscape has changed, you need to find a new local support system, and you no longer have a church where you are expected to (and want to) be on Sunday mornings?
Barbara Brown Taylor tells this story again in An Altar in the World. And this version of her story includes these words, “Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did but how I did it that mattered. God had suggested an overall purpose, but was not going to supply the particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning, then I was going to have to apply the purpose for myself” (110).
For the last decade the meaning and purpose seemed easy enough to me. I worked for God (and about 300 church members). I journeyed with other disciples as they discovered God at work in their daily lives. I led Bible studies. I preached and led worship. I prayed with and for all ages of children of God. I laughed and cried with children, youth, and adults as we discerned together where God was calling them and how to faithfully follow God. For me, there was always so much to do that I had to make myself stop and think about why I was doing it.
Now, the opposite is true. I have so much time to think, ponder, and question. Most days, I’m using my time to do those things and I believe it will help me in whatever comes next. Other days, I want to do more and think less. As I search for ways to find a balance, I find myself reflecting on one of my favorite quotes. It is a memory that my favorite singer, Harry Chapin, shared about his grandfather, who said the following to Harry:
Harry, there are two kinds of tired: there’s good-tired, and there’s bad-tired. Ironically enough, bad-tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas, other people’s dreams and when it was all over there was very little “you” in there, and when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn—you don’t settle easy. Good-tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost. But you don’t have to tell yourself, ’cause you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days, and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy—you sleep the sleep of the just, and you can say “take me away.”
I first heard this on Harry’s The Gold Medal Collection album while I was in seminary and was inspired to live by this motto of good-tired. In fact, while in a liturgy class where we were to prepare an order of service for a funeral I requested that my friend include this quote in my funeral service.
During my time between calls, I’ve been tired, but it has been good-tired because I’ve been listening for God and focusing on using my God-given gifts. Working in the church will leave you tired. There is no doubt about that. The question is what type of tired? I believe God is challenging me to find the balance, to take the time in whatever my ministry setting is to work so I’m good-tired with time to think and not just do. In our world, busyness leads quickly to bad-tired.
I’ve been calling this season of life my sabbatical. I’ve never had a sabbatical before, and I’m trying to use this time wisely and faithfully. My hope is that when my sabbatical ends I will have had time to rest and renew the most important relationships in my life. I hope to have learned more and slowed down enough to see more too. And, if I am tired, I want to be good-tired. My task now is to discover those deepest desires that God has given me: what I want to do and what I love to do. I hope that I can make a living doing these things. Most of all, I must remember in this time of discovery that I belong to God. I am God’s beloved and so are you.
Post Author: Susannah DeBenedetto
The Rev. Susannah DeBenedetto is ordained in the United Church of Christ. She has served churches in Missouri, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. Currently, she is between calls and discerning her next steps in ministry while exploring her new home, the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
You can learn more about the Young Clergy Women Project and read my article here.