After writing the post on Focus two weeks ago, I decided to take a “sabbath year,” inspired by one Quaker meeting’s decision a few years back to abstain for a year from all activities that were not strictly necessary. It was a chance to make some space and see what was really essential. In my case, I’m going to make it a sabbatical from volunteering, though with a similar purpose. Initially I thought this sounded selfish; then I started adding up in my mind all the hours I’ve spent volunteering for various things in the last twenty-six years. Mostly they have been wonderful enriching experiences, but lately I’ve been feeling resentful of people in my various communities who don’t volunteer as much, which is a sign that it’s time for a break. 

Then I started thinking logistics. I’m done my term as assistant clerk of my Quaker meeting in December of this year, so January 2011 seems a good time to start. That gives me time to arrange for someone else to organize the MLK Day project I’ve led at the kid’s school for the last several Januaries. January is also basketball season, and there weren’t enough drivers this year, so I’ll have to think through whether driving to kid’s sports fits into the volunteering box or the parenting box. My daughter’s class has returned from their seventh grade trip to Costa Rica, so the fundraising for that trip is done (except for the good souls who volunteered to sell hot dogs at lunch all year). My son’s trip isn’t for two years, so I should have a little breather there, I thought, until I remembered that the planning for that trip starts the previous year. This means that much of the fundraising for his trip will take place during the fall of 2011. Furthermore, the parents in his class are much less involved than the ones in my daughter’s class, so I’ve been assuming that I’m going to have to step up more for that trip than for my daughter’s. “There goes my sabbath year,” I thought, until I remembered that one of the major fundraisers will take place in January of 2012. It would still require a lot of planning during the fall of 2011, but if I take some leadership for the January event, maybe I could at least limit the work I do in 2011. The alternative would be to leave being assistant clerk in September 2010, rather than the end of the year, so I could make my sabbath September to September, but I don’t want to do that to our clerk. Amazing that taking a year off from volunteering should seem so complicated and take such advanced planning. 

This experiment will raise a lot of questions about the boundary between being a good community member and volunteering something extra, but I suspect they will be helpful questions. Will I still go to every Quaker business meeting when I’m no longer assistant clerk? Will I still bake cookies for the back-to-school dinner? And more fundamentally, what motivates my participation in these activities—something Spirit-led and life-giving, or a desire for acceptance, praise, or recognition? I’ve never stopped to question why I volunteer for things before—it’s just been part of who I am—but a pause for self-reflection is never a bad thing. I suspect it will provide some fodder for future blog posts (and maybe inspire others to cut back).