Hugh Halter
Out-Running Gravity
by Hugh Halter on August 1st, 2013

  Thoughts from my first pathetically awesome sabbatical.


“Dave, there are those who pray, and those who get crap done. I’m the not of the first variety.”  

If you’ve been following me, you already know I’m not cut out of the standard pastoral paradigm. I don’t fit, I never have, and my first question to Jesus, when I see him is not going to be, “So really, what’s with the gay thing?” It’s going to be, “So why, on God’s green earth, oh, I mean on Your green earth, did You plan that I would be a pastor?”  

This quote above by yours truly (and one that I’m not proud of), is one I remember saying to a concerned friend who was questioning my pace of play.  He knew about the 21-year battle with our son’s constant seizure disorder and lack of sleep therein; he knew of my two daughters 6 day a week hockey schedule; he knew that I was leading our local church but traveling every week helping other churches; and he knew that maybe, jusssssst maybe, I was teetering on burnout . . .or blow out.

Now, literally four years later, Dave and a few others in my accountability group suggested that I finally make ONE significant shift in how I relate to God so that a fresh wind of vision, energy, and abiding might take place.  Jay, another prophetic pain in hind-end asked, “Is it possible that our spiritual disciplines and level of abiding that got us to this point of influence in the world may not be enough to sustain us in the next season of life and ministry?”

This question shook me to the core. I took it seriously this time, and with the blessing of my group, decided to chart out on my first 10-week sabbatical.  That would be my one significant shift.

In the Greek the word sabbatical means “get ready for God to kick your ?#$%!”  

And so it began.

A couple of month’s later, sabbatical day one arrived. I sat up wide-awake at 4 a.m. and no kidding, my first thought was, Oh crap, I’ve got to get going...this is my first day of rest! I rushed down, put on a pot of coffee, drank the whole pot of coffee, started to brew the next round and flew into my office and did what I’ve been doing for many moons. I opened my computer to check emails.  As soon as the keyboard lit up, and the hard drive made that warm inviting sound of something revving up, my heart sank.  

“Seriously, Halter,” I said out loud to myself. “This is not how you start a sabbatical.”  I rummaged around my cluttered desktop full of speaking requests, book manuscripts, travel arrangements, Sunset magazines (ya, I like those), in search of a Bible. It wasn’t readily available, so instead I grabbed the battery operated nose hair clipper that caught my short attention span and went into the bathroom to at least try to accomplish something.  Within a few passes my nose was tidy enough for my next inner thought to squeeze through.  “Stop procrastinating and go do nothing…now!”

With that, I stumbled back into the office and went to the “Bible section” of my bookshelf.  This is for another day, but I have been stealing Bibles from churches for years. All churches have a lost and found section where people leave coffee cups, used pacifiers, old stinky sweaters, and Bibles they never intend to read.  I like to thumb through each and find the ones that have no names or ways to reunite them with the owners. Don’t worry, I always ask the secretary for permission to abscond with them! And so on this day, I was looking for the oldest most spiritual looking one. I thought, If I’m going to act like a monk I should probably have an ancient looking Bible.  It was this black one you see in the picture.  
So with me and my closed down MacBook, I headed out to the first step on my front porch as shown here below.  Still don’t know why the MacBook made the trip but at least I was ready to listen.  Oh…wait, just then the pot of coffee hit and I had to run back in and…you know.

TMI, but finally, at 4:40 a.m., the sun began to crest over the lake, the sultry sound of oncoming geese began to set a serene atmosphere, and a sweet scent of flowers wafted off the flower pots surrounding me.  I took a deep breath and blurted out, “OK, so, what do you want me to do?”

Faster than Forrest Gump with a ping pong paddle came this divine reply. “I can only do with you what your character allows me to do with you.”

I cannot remember ever hearing or thinking this thought before in my life. I was stunned that God actually spoke. I was more stunned that I picked up some of God’s emotions in those words.  I knew He was ticked.  It was like He was saying, “Hugh, I do have a lot to tell you, but this is not going to be how this sabbatical is going to go.”

And then I just sat there. Even though it was warm out, I felt really cold.  Sort of like I had just been stripped of soaking wet clothes.  I was feeling the weight of glory, as C.S Lewis put it.  I felt God as a personal being. I realized that He doesn’t just know my name, but that He knows me. He watches me.  He loves me, but (dang) He’s weary of me. He was challenging my character. The real me.

I’ve been challenged a lot in my life. My kids constantly challenge me about what I wear in public. My wife challenges me about how I speak rudely to the customer service reps from India. My best friends challenge me about my travel schedule. Ultra-conservatives challenge me because…well, they’re ultra-conservatives, but when someone challenges your character, now those are fighting words . . . unless it’s God.

I sat there crushed, wondering what I had done or was about to do.  I asked God to show me where I was sinning.  It was silent.  “But if I am not in any overt sin, what are you trying to get me to consider?”

And then it felt like God let me talk to myself. “Maybe my character issue is not about sins but about the settledness of my soul.  Maybe God is trying to grow me, not get more out of me.  I don’t want to sound trite, nor do I think that just slowing down or taking a day off fixes everything, but I wonder if this journey into the Sabbath life may yield a tastier fruit than the bland seeds I’m constantly spitting out?

I titled this sabbatical piece, Out-Running Gravity, because I am beginning to learn that God is the greatest force of nature. And as gravity is a law of nature and thus a law of God, it is not wise to try to out run it or Him.  

The word “Sabbatical” actually comes from what you would think: “Sabbath.” It literally means to “cease from work.”  I realize that most pastors often get to do this but that the normal strain of human never gets this option.  But here I am as a normal guy, one that just happens to be a pastor, and I can now suggest that maybe the idea of rest, or at least slowing or stopping for a moment, may be the wisest thing one can do with a 24-hour-day, 7-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year rhythm that God put in motion.

In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing more thoughts, pictures, and learnings from my first pathetic attempt at a sabbatical.  I hope you’ll find some encouragement from my immature journey.  I did have a blast, and there are some hilarious moments you’ll hear about, as well. My general feeling is that it was the hardest thing I’ve done to date, at least spiritually, but the best thing, as well. As the great theologian John Cougar Mellencamp said, “Hurts so good,” and this was a good hurt.  I think you’ll see that the very best things in life come through struggle, but it is all worth it if God speaks.

And He did.

Thanks to Dave, Carl, Brad, and Jay for this little nudge.

P.S. The other thoughts will not be this long!

Posted in Adullam, Missional Church, The Church, Thoughts on Sabbatical    Tagged with Hugh Halter, missional, missional community, sabbatical, pastors, Pastoral Care, Accountablity, Christian Pastor, Disfunction, Spiritual diciplines, Christian leadership, bible, God, Ministry, Season of Life, Bad Days


Drew - August 1st, 2013 at 4:32 PM
Hugh, blessed by this. Great thoughts on something I've seen numerous pastors struggle with, taking Sabbath/Sabbaticals.
Ingrid - August 1st, 2013 at 7:28 PM
Hugh. This is a great start. Can't wait to hear more!
Andrew - August 1st, 2013 at 8:41 PM
My pastor went on Sabbatical. Greatest thing he ever did.
I am looking forward to your thoughts and ruminations.

God speed!
Jay - August 2nd, 2013 at 7:48 AM
i heard someone once say that as leaders we always have a gravitational pull towards using people and situations to get things done. This is contrasted with God using people, situations and "things" to get us done. My own recent journey through sabbath-town exposed that rest can easily be motivated by the hope that it will help me be more successful/productive. Obviously it is often a by-product but not the actual primary objective. To learn what it means to abide...
Penny Dorsey - August 2nd, 2013 at 11:48 AM
Hi Hugh!

Great thoughts. In fact, I'd love to chat with you more about this at some point because the very issue of what you're talking about here is at the heart of where God is taking Rog and I during the half-time of our life here in Oregon.

We're building a Pastor's Retreat called "Kerith Springs" (Kerith is where Elijah rested when he was being chased by King Ahab). The divine encounters that God has orchestrated in putting the details together for this endeavor are too many to mention in this note. Suffice it to say that God loves and burns with hurt for his Shepherds who are on the front lines fighting that "365 days a year rhythm." It's our desire to provide an atmosphere where Pastor's and Missionaries can find some rest.

It will be located by Trillium Lake up by Mt. Hood. The land and funding for this has been donated and this summer, after years of dreaming, praying and hoping...we are breaking ground.

So, I just wanted you to know that Pastor's like you are who we had in mind when this vision was born. Thank you for confirming what God has been teaching us about what is critically necessary for our leaders.

Esther - August 3rd, 2013 at 10:30 AM
I can't wait to hear the other thoughts even if they are this long!
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