Not too long ago, I found myself tangled in a web of connections linking me to too many responsibilities: a husband with his own full schedule; three children with homework, after-school lessons and maturing personalities; plus cleaning, laundry, appointments, leadership of a women’s organisation, speaking engagements and teaching. My to-do list seemed endless!
My job in a church office filled the few remaining slots in my overcrowded mind. My job description didn’t include working weekends, but legitimate needs seemed to tug at me from entrance to exit. I smiled on the outside but gritted my teeth on the inside.
The only sparkle left in my eyes came from pent-up tears. Knots upset my stomach, and migraine headaches ruined at least one day out of every week. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me I was overwhelmed. Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of the person I was becoming in one of his many essays: “Extreme busyness, whether at school, kirk [church] or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality. . . . It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle; their nature is not generous enough.”
A summer sabbatical sounded like a solution to my problem. The church hired a student to take my place, and Doug and I bought a caravan on an island an hour’s drive from our home. We moved in for the summer. After his holidays ended, Doug commuted to work each day, spending an occasional night at home to mow the lawn. The children and I stayed at our new eight-metre home with three bunk beds for them and a kitchen table that converted into a double bed for me.
One day a friend dropped by for a visit. “I couldn’t bear to sit here all summer and listen to my hair grow,” she said.
But “listening to my hair grow” was exactly what I needed. My tanned kids went fishing with their dad, swam till they wrinkled, built cities in the sand, rode bikes on dirt roads, collected frogs and pudding stones (a rock unique to the area) and played Battleship and Scrabble on rainy days. Often they fell asleep at our nightly campfire and had to be carried to bed. Each morning they awoke within a stretched arm of one another. No television, no traffic, no telephone, no calendar.
I read my Bible and other books while birds sang and possums scurried. Every day I rode my bike to the general store to buy the paper, our one connection to the outside world; and when it was open, I visited the local library, where I rediscovered Agatha Christie. (I haven’t let her get too far away since.)
My sabbatical worked wonders. It gave me time to reflect on the person I’d become: a worrier with mixed-up priorities, pleasing everyone but the people who mattered most—my husband and children—and a hurrier with no time for interruptions. That summer, I delighted in the colours and sounds of creation, let the wind and rain mess my hair, swam in the bay and walked country roads. I read my Bible with a listening ear.
I spent hours on my sun lounge at the beach, by the camp fire, sometimes even napping, and refusing to feel an ounce of guilt for my idleness. Even my friend’s comment about doing nothing but listening to my hair grow didn’t upset me. Sleep came easily at night, and I no longer dreaded the sunrise.
Over the summer, I became quiet enough to hear God urging me to take time to write. A new thought came to me while staring into the campfire: if I organised the world in a mountain of file folders; planned extraordinary meetings; showed off the smartest, best-behaved, best-dressed children; and decorated my home like a pro but didn’t follow God’s leading for my life, what would it all benefit me?
The end of my holiday arrived too soon. A lump lodged in my throat when we packed our belongings and closed our cramped summer home that could be cleaned in 15 minutes. That autumn, I requested a four-day work week. Gradually, I learned to say No to responsibilities that weren’t mine and to save my energy for the ones that were. Changing my pleaser personality is a lifetime project, but that first summer at the caravan put me on the right track.
Christian author Hannah Whitall Smith once wrote, “Learn to live in [God’s] rest; and in the calm of spirit it will give, your soul will reflect as in a mirror the ‘beauty of the Lord,’ and the tumult of men’s lives will be calmed in your presence as your tumults have been calmed in the presence of God.”
My summer sabbaticals at the caravan continued for several years. It was there that I learned to love the sound of my hair growing!