Sabbatical year


As we ventured into this year, we knew there would be a lot of failures, especially with respect to language. Some people have asked us to specifically relate the times that the language barrier guided us into territory both humiliating and hysterical. (Like the time that I followed my friend upstairs when she was going to change her clothes. It turns out that what she was telling me downstairs was “Wait right here for me,” not “Follow me.”)

The bigger question about failure, though, was what would make this year a success or a failure? Time spent learning a different culture? Acquisition of language? Participation in the church around the globe? Making friends? Winning converts? A thriving new church here? The list of possibilities is actually quite long. Funny given that a sabbatical year was also supposed to be about simplicity.

Teddy and I have struggled with what makes this year “worth it.” Will those that have invested in our time here be satisfied with what we bring home?

I had a great Bible study the other day. We have been studying Hebrews, and we were reflecting on Hebrews 11–the passage about Abraham’s life. One of the questions was, “Have you ever left a place of security in order to follow God? What was the result? Were you ever tempted to return?” Ummm… yeah, though the decision to come here for a year feels small compared to the decisions of others we’ve met–people who have left home for good to go to faraway places, or those who have answered a call to go to places much more dangerous and difficult than any we’ve been. Still, the conversation turned to me as an example of this. I felt honored and embarrassed. I tried to find things to say about the exact reasons I thought God had called us to come here, but alas, I didn’t have the answers.

I am proud that we chose to do something that we felt God was calling us to. How lucky I am to have a husband who is listening to the pulling of Christ and that we could work as a team to spend this year in Spain. But I always find myself needing to justify it to those around us.

Why would we take a year away from family? Why would we leave financial security for uncertainty? What is God trying to teach us? What is he trying to use us to do? I have many questions, few answers. We trusted that God was calling us to this and that he would provide what we needed. We took a leap of faith without all the answers.

So what would make it a success or a failure? The conversation came up because I don’t know that our kids are going to come back speaking Spanish. “So, you’re telling me that your kids spent a year in Spain and won’t be speaking Spanish??”

No por eso estamos aquí (We are not here for that reason), I have to remind myself. What makes this year a success or a failure?

Back to Bible study: One of the group members said, “You know, Abraham wasn’t the evangelist of Ur (his town). He was revered and regarded as righteous because he led a holy life and passed down a heritage of holiness within his family.” That was a huge weight lifted.

For me, this year is a success if we endeavor to trust God, lead holy lives, and teach our children to do the same. Isn’t it through this that others see Christ in us most?

When I get bogged down with all the day-to-day things to do or worry that I’m not sharing my faith enough, I come back to focus on what I believe is most important right now. I truly believe that years later I’ll be able to see more clearly what this year is about, but for now I find peace in knowing that God’s primary calling for all of us is to the simple, yet difficult, mission of holy lives. I can live with that.

2 replies on “Failure”

Emily, recently I’ve been learning a lot about perspective. From my perspective, your question – ‘what will make this year a success or failure’ – is not quite how I would phrase it. This is a successful experience. You are here. I have no doubt that at the end of this sabbatical you will be able to produce a substantial list of successes – some small, some larger – to support this point of view. Challenges are what allow us to grow, what could be more successful than that?
At the end of every year I try to find time to plot out what I’d like to achieve in the next 12 months. On Monday, I was advised to start this year by listing what I’ve achieved in the last year, as a basis for setting goals. It’s been liberating to do so, as it helps me to be positive about challenging myself in the year to come.
On that note, meeting you and Teddy, sharing our discussion group, attending Thanksgiving – they are all on my list. Thanks.

Thank you for the post. Appreciate your sincere wrestling. Isn’t it good that we don’t have to justify our decisions if we are following the Spirit’s leading. Thomas Kelly, Quaker of another generation, said that we don’t have to explain to others why we can, or cannot, do something if we have prayed and are following God’s leading. He says that a simple yes or no is sufficient. That is a relief when we wrestle with “success.” Also admire you for the conclusion you came to in the post. George Truett, a great Baptist pastor, said that success is finding the will of God and doing it. Thank you for sharing the humor of mistakes.
Jim Stratton
PS Address change: Thank you. And we send our prayers for a joyous and peace-filled Christmas Season.

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