I haven’t written a blog post about myself at a particular age in a while, and I’m running out of time to do so. We’re getting very close to my current age, so I thought I’d better throw another one of those in before it’s too late. (That, and I also couldn’t come up with anything else at all to talk about regarding the number 41. Well, there’s George H.W. Bush, rest his soul, but I really don’t have anything in particular to say about him. Except that it’s absolutely amazing that Republican presidents used to be like that. You know, kind and thoughtful.)
Anyway, when I was 41, I took three months off of my work as pastor of Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church. Some people thought of this as a sabbatical, but I thought of it as (and claimed it as) medical leave. I did this because I was on the verge of a breakdown — I was caught in the deepest depression I’d had in over a decade, and I had begun to seriously contemplate leaving the ordained ministry. Suicide had begun to creep into my mind. I knew that if I didn’t do something, this would not go away, and I would end up in a place or a situation that I would probably regret.
So I asked for some time off. My congregation was understanding and generous. I asked for two months off and they gave me three. I asked for benefits to continue while I was off, and they gave me that, plus my full salary. I couldn’t ask for more kindness.
I spent those three months searching and seeking. I searched for hope, and sought meaning. I explored spiritual direction and yoga. I learned meditation and mindfulness. I visited a monastery for a silent retreat. I deepened my regular therapy. I visited the church where I was baptized, and wrote the most important thing I’ve ever written. I had some heavy conversations with good friends, and reconnected with some old friends I hadn’t seen in over twenty years.
And there is a part of me that wants to do it again. There was something so powerful and so urgent about that time. I feel like I’ve lost it. Real life has come back now. I haven’t done yoga in well over a year. I would love to return to the monastery, but I just can’t figure out when. The church where I was baptized is now closed, and I have the font in my garage! But it just sits there; I can’t figure out what to do with it, and I need a friggin’ forklift to move it anyway. I’ve had some pretty low moments. I’ve slid away from mindfulness. I even canceled appointments with both my therapist and my spiritual director for a few months, just because. And I’ve wondered sometimes if all that work when I was 41 was worth it. Did I just waste it all? Was it just good for a year or two, and then I need to do it again? I can’t do it again. I can’t ask for another three months off, certainly not this soon. If I need it, then it really is time to leave this career.
But I don’t need it. I need to embrace the memory of it. I need to remember all that I learned, all that I experienced, and experience some of it again. I could try mindfulness in a new way. I could try to go back to yoga, even though the time is no longer convenient. I could try to remember that I had three months of deep hope. Three months in which I discovered the Darkwater, the water that runs through my veins from the place I was baptized, the water that is not dark from filth, but dark from depth. Three months when I learned anew who I was, and whose I was, and how much that meant.
It’s been a few years since 41, but it’s still there, and it always will be. I just need to remember.