This month marks the first time in my life that I’ve been given the gift of a sabbatical. After fourteen years as a pastor I am taking a whole month just to do, well, pretty much nothing, or at least something very different. It is a strange prospect to consider that doing ‘nothing’ might be precisely the ‘something’ that I need.
Did you know that our brains do much of our best work at night? When our daytime brain shuts off, our night time brain kicks in. Sleep is essential for allowing our brain to work out big ideas, file away memories, and re-order our inner world to prepare for the next day. In a similar way, most plants need time to stop being productive, in Canada that’s during the winter months, to rest and prepare for a new season of growth.
Yet we often do not allow ourselves the space to stop. We think we can grow and produce perpetually. A New York Times article from April 29, 2019 presented “The Case for Doing Nothing” and describes how we often think our work is so important that we have to always make those around us aware of our crazy busy life. It’s a badge of honour that we did not stop or sleep. Our productivity and busy-ness define us, and to our detriment.
Researchers are learning that those who give space for rest actually become better at their work. Tony Schwartz, in his book, ‘The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working’ told this story: “While working on The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci regularly took off from painting for several hours at a time and seemed to be daydreaming aimlessly. Urged by his patron, the prior of Santa Maria delle Grazie, to work more continuously, da Vinci is reported to have replied, immodestly but accurately, ‘The greatest geniuses accomplish more when they work less.”
Immodest as it may be, no one would accuse da Vinci of being lazy, he was a prolific artist. Yet he knew the value of stopping. When we stop our creative mind is given space to think and work out details big and small. When we stop we allow the voices of others to remind us who we are and what we’re about. When we stop we see things that we did not know were there and we have the space to weed out or nurture something deep in our souls.
Stopping might not be about doing nothing after all, rather it might be about actively doing something that gives space for the most important values in our lives to emerge. I know the next season of my life will be full of new projects, times of growth, and a barrage of urgent requests and needs. This sabbatical is a chance to go deep, renew, think, read, rest, and prepare for all of the good things that lay before me. It is a chance to be honest and alert, attentive and non-anxious. The world would be better served with a healthy and ready Preston Pouteaux, than a frantic and empty Preston Pouteaux.
Whether you stop for minutes a day, once a week, or for a short time every year or decade, may you build in moments where you can stop and listen. Rest is a gift we give to ourselves and others, and it might be the most important part of the growth you experience this year.