Sabbatical Announcement

By Natalie Briscoe

"Doing nothing is very hard to do… you never know when you're finished." — Leslie Nielsen

One of the many amazing and privileged honors about working for the Unitarian Universalist Association is that we are granted sabbatical leave roughly every seven years. In recognition of our need for renewal and reconnection, we are granted time away from our daily grind to spend time in the presence of the sacred and remember our call to this work.

After 12 years as a parish Religious Educator, I started my time as Congregational Life Field Staff on January 2, 2013, when my oldest child Ian was only seven months old. I lived in Seattle at the time and made the long move home to Austin in May of 2013, infant Ian in tow. In June of 2014, my second child, Ayla, was born, and I was suddenly a full-time traveling mom with two kids in diapers. They spent a LOT of time in their car seats as we traveled all over the region. In those early years, it was not uncommon for me to be away from my home for at least two weeks and four weekends per month.

If you’ll notice the math there, this sabbatical cycle means I was eligible in January of 2020. Instead of using the plane tickets my family bought me to spend two months in Europe and The Philippines, I, like all of us, stayed home during quarantine. Time wore on, borders were closed, and my plane tickets were eventually canceled. I spent the next year and a half serving on the UUA’s COVID Rapid Response team, homeschooling the kids, leaving a marriage and a home, and starting over during a worldwide health crisis.

By late 2022 and early 2023, current events seemed not as dire. Congregations were dealing with the after-effects of social isolation and the learnings about their mission and interconnectedness during that time, but we had left crisis mode. We were reaching into the future again, redesigning our communities with new possibility and purpose. The children were back at school, and the adults were tired, but figuring it out. And then our Southern Region Co-Lead, Connie Goodbread, left her position to be the Director of the new Hope for Us team for conflict transformation. I was promoted to sole Lead for the region and was in the middle of another transition. It was, again, not a good time to take a sabbatical.

And then, in late 2023, just after General Assembly, it hit me: The Big B. After I had written and workshopped and taught and preached on rest as a multifaceted post-pandemic necessity, I realized that I was 100% Burnt. Out. To a CRISP.

Where once I had hinged my entire philosophy of work in servant leadership where the first answer was “yes!” I found myself waking up with nothing but a “no!” on my lips. I was resentful, which is the sure sign of bad boundaries and overwhelm. Every relationship was too much for me, at home and at work. I dreaded seeing people I loved out of the fear that they, too, would arouse my irritability and anger.

It wasn’t good, friends.

I took a week’s vacation this past November to the Blue Ridge Mountains. What I thought was going to be a restful week of hiking, sleeping, drinking spring water, and breathing mountain air turned into me crying on the couch of the AirBNB for five solid days. The opposite of depression isn’t happiness; it’s expression. Giving my body just a few short days to even begin to process let out a deluge of pent-up emotion. I applied for my sabbatical when I returned to work on Monday morning.

I don’t recommend you ever do what I did. Don’t push yourself past your breaking point. Don’t foolishly believe that more work is the answer. Don’t invoke your own shame, don’t call yourself lazy, don’t think you’ve lost the call. Those are lies that capitalism tells us.

Instead, be gentle with yourself. Listen to what the soft inside needs. If you are finding it difficult to be kind, then you must practice kindness with yourself. If you are finding it difficult to listen, then listen to your own needs. If you’re finding it difficult to embrace the anchor of your being, maybe it is time to allow yourself to be carried off into the wind. And cry, oh for goodness sake, cry. It’s truly the most revolutionary thing we can do.

I was granted a sabbatical at our UUA for April 1 to July 8th. During that time, I will not travel. I will not work. I will not conceive and give birth to some great project.

I will sit quietly. I will listen. I will be gentle. I will connect with my children and learn who they are now, marvel at the differences as they grow. I will observe what is around me and I will practice acceptance. I will breathe deeply. And that is enough.

When I return, I hope to reconnect with each of you as well. I’ll be reaching out to congregational leaders to check in, get updates, and hopefully laugh a little bit.

Thank you for this retreat time. I can’t wait to greet you in the fall with an exuberant “yes!”