5 Sabbatical Rhythms of Life for Caregivers and Their Loved One

Share this:

This article is an excerpt from the book, We’re Stronger than We Look: Insights and Encouragement for the Caregiver’s Journey. Jill and David Brown lived full and healthy lives until David took a violent fall off his bicycle and into a wheelchair in 2009. Jill now serves as his primary caregiver.

It’s better to burn out than rust out. Ever heard that before?

Like most adages, this one is clever and catchy—and incomplete. Since when did burning out or rusting out become our only two choices? Or, as a friend of ours said, “Can God count to three?”

Extremes are like ditches. We can travel in one or the other, but the road running along between them has more elbow room and a better view.

David and I serve on the member care team of the organization we work for. Twice a year, our team puts on a seminar to help staff going on sabbatical get ready to use the time well. I love this seminar. It’s so useful, people from other organizations come as well.

Some time ago, our organization figured out that people who take a sabbatical every seven to ten years do better in the long run. They stay healthier. They can keep going. If they’re on track for burnout, the break lets them rest. It also gives them a chance to consider why they’re burning out and make some changes.

David and I joined our member care team in June 2009. Two months later, he took a six-month sabbatical . . . though everyone says breaking his neck and being in the hospital doesn’t count for that. Either way, we came due again a few years ago. But we didn’t take one.

Instead, because of his limitations, we try to live what we call a “sabbatical rhythm of life.” That could be the smartest decision we ever made, except it isn’t, because we didn’t decide to do this. We more slid into it. When we overdid, we paid for that. When we built in margin, we had more energy. When we said yes to everything, we got stressed. When we said no to a few things, oh, glorious peace. We stayed healthier. We could keep going.

David and I might be slow learners, but we finally caught on. Those principles we’d helped other people use actually work! So, here’s a glimpse of what a sabbatical rhythm of life looks like for us.

  • We’re outdoors as much as possible. When the weather cooperates, I spend time among the flowers before getting David up in the morning. Our coffee tastes better out there too.
  • Instead of movies or TV, we have books. A book goes at your own pace and doesn’t make noise. As well as what we’re reading individually, we keep a mutual read-a-loud going, a chapter each  evening— two or three if it’s exciting.
  • During the week, we try to have only one evening commitment, with Saturdays totally free. That’s especially good just before or after a demanding season.
  • If something extra jams its way in, we drop something else. We’ll have takeout pizza instead of cooking or skip an event where we won’t be missed.
  • We try to allow more time to get ready for something than we think we need, especially if it involves going somewhere. This is a weak link, but we keep working on it.

This way of life keeps our muscles toned for when hard things, like a night at the ER, throw us into a pothole. Because they will—they do. But it’s easier to climb out when you aren’t already exhausted.

Jill Brown

is on staff with The Navigators, where she provides part-time pastoral care for those serving in ministry. She has been the caregiver for her husband, David, who is also on staff with The Navigators, since his bicycling accident in 2009.

1 thought on “5 Sabbatical Rhythms of Life for Caregivers and Their Loved One”

Leave a Comment