Last week slipped away from me in a sudden rush of busyness. Now I’m back in the freedom of these sabbatical days, doubly grateful for them, knowing that they need to come to an end soon. I confess I’ve enjoyed being spoiled with a season of what has sometimes felt like irresponsibility. I haven’t been free of the constant demands of paid employment since I was 16 (not counting time later in schools and study that carried a different but equally high set of demands and obligations). This unexpected freedom in my life has been a blessing I never expected to have.
I confess I’ve found it hard not to feel guilty for being so free and unproductive. I intended it to be a very productive time, full of fresh energy and bursts of creativity. Instead, I’ve come to experience it as my fallowing time — letting myself, like a farmer’s unplanted field, lie at rest, replenishing, storing up nutrients in order to become more productive, and maybe to produce a different kind of crop when returned to work. Soon I think I’ll be re-seeded and put to work again, but all in good time. As the scriptures say, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
I rejoice in this season of freedom and count its blessings, which are many. For instance: I’m sinking my roots deep into the soil of prayer and finding little shards of truth emerging out of the solitude and silence. I’m re-connecting with my family and cherishing the time I’m spending with them. I’m having more time with my aged mother, whose life is not endless and whom I’m coming to know better now, just as her years are beginning to wane. I’m studying lots of things, some planned and some on a whim, spurred only by my curiosity and unhampered by the feeling that “I don’t have time!” I’m trying to craft a re-balanced life, caring for my health in ways I’ve long neglected, and for the most part succeeding, if slowly. I’m grateful for all of this.
But… I also find myself thinking more than ever of all the people in the world – most of the people in the world, if the truth be told – who never have the luxury of free time and rest, whose labor must be constant just to survive, whose lives are constricted by poverty and the unending need to find food and create shelter for themselves and their families, constricted still further by the demands that others lay on them, whether employers, or officials, or terrorists and thugs, or the faceless, soulless powers of bureaucracy. People whose lives have no weekends free, no paid holidays, and certainly no long sabbaticals. Why should I be so blessed to be free to pray for hours if I like, or read for hours, or write long notes to people I don’t know, or to dream, when others’ backs are breaking under the loads they must carry? They are, all of them, equally worthy of this freedom I enjoy, and I know that somehow in the unbalanced and interconnected scheme of things their poverty is the price of my freedoms.
It’s coming home to me, among the other gifts of this time, what the Hebrew and Christian scriptures have been telling me for years: that we who are given more than our share of the wealth of the world (whether money, or talents, or time and opportunity) are expected to use it to enrich others. That doing good works for others is not a gift we give but an obligation we owe. That compassionate works aren’t charity, but simple justice. So while I enjoy myself now, I know all this needs to issue somehow in giving back and “paying forward,” to use the wealth I’m receiving to help others find their blessing. The possibilities, large and small, for helping to lift someone else up and set them free are endless and all around me. I can’t do everything. But I can do something. Undoubtedly far more than I realize.
But then, while I think of all these things, and feel the weight of responsibility, I also keep hearing an insistent, nudging invitation to remember that joy is the first responsibility of life. To be joyful in life and to bring joy to others’ lives… to remember that the reason for working to relieve suffering is so that others may share in joy and all our joy increase.
I don’t exactly know where all this is going, or how it will play out in my future. But just putting it into words feels important. A first step.
Blessings and peace — and joy — to you!
[P.S. The photo of the waving grasses is courtesy of James Thew – Fotolia.com]