Sabbatical “Greatest Gift Ever Received”: A Young Priest Reflects on a Well-Spent Season

Sabbatical “Greatest Gift Ever Received”

This article was adapted from one which first appeared in the newsletter of St. Michael’s Church.

The past 12 weeks of sabbatical have been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I am profoundly grateful to the clergy, vestry, and the people of St. Michael’s for blessing me so generously and joyfully. The sabbatical went beyond what I had even hoped and was a summer I will always cherish.

In the months leading up to the sabbatical, my prayer for this time set apart was taken from Psalm 36: that the Booman family would be able to feast on the Lord’s abundance, drink from His delights, and see the light of His glory—all while sheltered under the shadow of His wings. Little did I know how critical the last clause of that prayer would prove to be.

In late June, on our very first trip out of Charleston, while staying in the cool majesty of the mountains near Clyde, NC, little seven-week old Ezra spiked a fever one afternoon. We quickly called our pediatrician at MUSC who advised heading to the nearest ER as soon as possible. After six hours of tests in the local hospital, they diagnosed him with pneumonia necessitating a midnight ambulance ride to the children’s hospital in Asheville. Fortunately, after running more tests that night and drawing more blood and spinal fluid, they ultimately concluded that the pneumonia diagnosis had been premature and that something else was going on. Mercifully, after three more days of testing, waiting, and consulting with infectious disease experts at UNC, they concluded that Ezra had somehow contracted Salmonella (very unusual in a newborn), and that the right medicine would deal with this bacterium. Exhausted but grateful, we returned to Charleston.

It was a sobering reminder of the brokenness of this world, the fragility of life, and the preciousness of the time we have with our loved ones. There was also a remarkable theological dimension to the ordeal in that the day before the fever spiked: I had felt led to spend my quiet time meditating on the various passages in the gospel of Luke where someone (usually Jesus or the angel Gabriel) says, “Fear not.” It was those simple words of assurance (as well as the prayers of the body of Christ) that carried us through.

ortunately, the Lord helped us to regain our equilibrium, and the rest of the summer was marked by great joy. We had so many sweet times together as a family: from a weekend with Caity in Savannah to camping with the boys in Embree; from canoeing in the mountains to fishing on James Island; from the water park in Myrtle Beach (Daniel just made the 48-inch requirement) to playing catch with a couple of Riverdogs players before a baseball game. Beautiful memories were made throughout.

In addition to relational renewal, I was able to devote significant time to my physical health and feel better than I have in years. I exercised regularly, played frisbee golf regularly with some friends, and was able to receive physical therapy and massage therapy for a back injury (sustained, of all places, while playing basketball at a clergy conference four years ago). The therapy did wonders, and I’m now able to play with the boys almost pain-free!

Rediscovering a Love of Reading

From family and physical renewal to the intellectual, this summer I also rediscovered a love of reading and learning. Somehow in the busyness of raising a family I’d forgotten how much I enjoy learning new things. This summer I was able to immerse myself in good books more than I have in years. While I didn’t complete my goal of reading 18 books, I knocked out 14 including the following (with a brief commentary):

1st and 2nd Kings by Dale Ralph Davis. A couple of fun and fascinating commentaries by one of the most engaging Old Testament commentators writing today. If you think the Old Testament is boring, spend an afternoon with Davis!

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. A classic work by one of the great spiritual writers of the 20th century; a book to ignite or rekindle one’s prayer life.

You and Me Forever by Francis Chan. A unique marriage book that challenges many assumptions about marriage, especially in the church. Chan provocatively suggests that marriage itself is often made into an idol and that the secret to a Godly marriage is focusing less on the marriage itself and focusing more on the mission God is calling you to as a couple.

Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman. Two New York Times bestsellers by a brilliant scholar and perhaps the world’s leading ‘underminer’ of the authority of scripture. Ehrman has popularized the scholarship of the liberal academy like no one before him. Consequently, he is a far greater threat to the faith than the more flamboyant “new atheists.” If you have children or grandchildren, it good to be aware that Ehrman’s works are in countless college classrooms around the country. He merits the sober consideration and thoughtful response of church.

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. A rock-solid biblically rooted treatment of marriage by one of the great communicators of our day. Keller notes how the Bible emphasizes the importance of friendship in marriage and calls us to pursue the holiness of our spouse with all that we are.

Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger. How do we know that we have the “right” books of the Bible in the Bible, and how do we know that the “right” criteria were used to choose them? Kruger examines a variety of models (throughout history and across the conservative-liberal spectrum) for understanding the formation of the canon and argues that they all fall short. Instead, he invites us to look to scripture itself for the divinely sanctioned criteria of canonicity. While his arguments may feel circular to some, I found them to be scripturally rooted and philosophically compelling. This was probably my favorite book of the summer.

Letters from Dad by Greg Vaughn. An inspiring book that launched a national movement. Through scores of testimonies, Vaughn notes how simple, honest, and loving letters have a remarkable capacity to transform lives and relationships. An especially relevant book for grandparents.

Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions by George Barna. Barna has been called the “most quoted Christian in America” and is one of the chief researchers of American Christianity today. In this work, Barna examines the data and identifies the primary factors which lead to spiritual growth in children.

Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright. If you’ve ever felt frustrated knowing how to integrate Paul’s letters with the account of his life in Acts, this is the book for you. Reads like a novel and inspires like the best devotional literature. Paul’s letters have come alive for me in way they never had before.

The Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando. A humble and insightful work by one of the leaders of Christianity in Asia for the last half-century.

The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald. One of the classic works of fantasy literature by the man C.S. Lewis called “The Master.” A vivid treatment of the nature of true faith, I read it aloud to five-year old Daniel, and we were both engrossed.

Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Philip Mamalakis. The best parenting book I’ve ever read. Mamalakis calls us to see our children through the eyes of Christ and move beyond mere “behavior modification” to the cultivation of kingdom virtues. While we may not see quick fixes or immediate gratification, the fruits of this approach—rooted as they are in the kingdom—are eternal.

Beyond the reading of books, one of my desires this summer was to also grow in my call to preaching by listening to good preaching. I chose to focus on Tim Keller and listened to about 25 of his sermons (listening to each sermon twice so as to more fully grasp how he crafts them). This discipline deeply nourished my soul.

One of the high points intellectually was meeting with Dr. Michael Kruger, President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. Dr. Kruger is one of the leading experts on the formation of the canon. I especially wanted to chat with him about Dr. Bart Ehrman (see above). Dr. Kruger confirmed that I was asking some of the right questions, recommended further areas of study, and encouraged me to continue seeking ways of resourcing the church in this area.

Finally, and most importantly, this summer I was blessed with significant spiritual renewal. I had several excellent times of conversation and prayer with my spiritual director, had an appointment with Bishop Thad Barnum (who oversees clergy care for the Anglican Church of North America), was able to get away for a couple of quiet days of prayer and fasting at Camp St. Christopher, and had a profound prayer appointment at Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International in Black Mountain, NC.

This prayer appointment perhaps merits further mention. Leading up to the prayer appointment I had been led by the Lord to read through old journal entries from 10-12 years ago. (I had never revisited them before). Those years (the late 2000s) were the darkest of my life. My parent’s marriage was falling apart, I myself had experienced a painful relational break-up, and for many months I literally felt like I was dying from Lyme’s disease. Reading those dark entries led me to a place of thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness. In some sense, I had forgotten how bad things were and how far the Lord has brought me. Even better, opening up these old memories ultimately led to a prayer appointment at PRMI where the Lord brought significant healing and comfort to places of unresolved pain.

I should also mention that I had the rare opportunity (for a pastor) to visit other churches. We tried to visit a different church every Sunday, including Baptist, Presbyterian, and non-denominational (as well as a couple of Anglican churches). We were blown away by the vitality of the Lord’s body across the denominations, and especially in Charleston. Regardless of liturgy, style of music, shape of the building, etc., Charleston churches are brimming with young singles and young families enthusiastically worshipping the God of the Bible and celebrating the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

As I returned to St. Michael’s, I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude for this time away, a greater affection for the family of faith we have at St. Michael’s, and a reignited desire for the gospel ministry we share. My hope, prayer, and expectation is that this coming year will be a year of great rootedness and fruitfulness, as the Holy Spirit shepherds us to places of greater faith, hope, and love in Christ.

In closing, I want to thank my exceptional sabbatical committee: Nancy Hardwick, Harriet Harris, Bill Hyer, Ted McNabb, and Linda Prince, who helped me discern my sabbatical vision, a healthy sabbatical rhythm, and, most importantly, covered me in prayer. Thank you, Team, for your support and wise counsel throughout; thank you for helping me keep first things first.

My beloved brothers and sisters, I look forward to seeing you all soon!

By The Rev. David Booman, Associate for Family Ministry, St. Michael’s Church, Charleston