A year ago, I said goodbye to my job and stepped into an unknown future. In truth, the future is always unknown, or beyond certainty, as my father would qualify when he spoke of plans, concluding, “Lord willing.” The same acknowledgement comes from our Muslim friends who say inshallah with a similar meaning.
In my situation, I felt drawn to a season of space, untethered by commitment to paid employment. I felt drawn to ministry in my family, specifically to provide care for my aging mother. I imagined this space would extend over months, maybe even a year. I was grateful for my husband’s year-long sabbatical, commencing at the same time, providing income and enabling us to share the spacious year.
I also felt terrified at the outset. The unstructured days loomed ahead of me, like a barren horizon, with no markers to ground or orient me. Those fears soon gave way. The internal metaphor shifted from empty horizon to buoyant ocean. The ocean was God’s love holding me up with steadfast, fluid support. I trusted I had made the right decision to step into open space.
Trust in God’s ocean of care calmed me when others questioned, “But what are you going to do?” Or when my own anxieties about employability at my age spiked. Are people in their 60s valuable to employers because of their seasoned experience? Do more years of living translate into outdated and less desirable? “I don’t know what will happen,” I answered myself and others. “We’ll see.” Paraphrasing the psalmist, I prayed to God, “Prosper our seasons of rest and renewal.”
I also had a strong sense that there are many ways to do God’s work. While I have been privileged to hold employment as a counsellor and a pastor, I recognize there are many avenues in which God invites each person to join in God’s mission of healing and reconciling the world. This was further solidified when I read an unnamed person’s response to the question, “How do you know when your work is done?” (I believe the question was asked with respect to decisions about retirement, a frequent topic of conversation between me and my peers.) The answer, which hit me with piercing clarity, was, “You work as long as you have breath. You live out your calling every day of your life until you die. That’s when it ends.”
With nothing more to guide me, I set out. As with others who embark on the open road, one never knows what one will discover. Immediately as I stepped into the space, I encountered an unfamiliar void. There was no to-do list!
I realized I’d been marching toward sequential goals my entire adult life: go to school, get a job, get married, have a baby, buy a house. The odd sensation of having no life goals ahead of me was quite striking. With it came a huge, full-bodied exhalation. My shoulders felt wondrously lighter. I chuckled that I’d been so driven.
I was also curious. How could my life possibly unfold without such fervent goal-setting? God probably chuckles too, as we determined but misguided humans scurry around, more focussed on illusory to-do lists than on savouring the precious moments of our days. I am grateful for this and other lessons of “a gap year.”
God likely chuckled again as a job came forward, beginning exactly as the year ended. A job to pastor a congregation, meshing smoothly with my training and experience. The spacious year comes to an end. The work continues.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.