Chaplain's Column: Take a Break!

Does it make sense for you to schedule some time for your body to catch up with your spirit? You'll be a better officer if you do.

Today, October 1, is my first day in the office since July 1. For the past three months I have been on sabbatical. As a result of the generosity of the National Clergy Renewal Program of the Eli Lilly Foundation and the congregation that I am privileged to serve, I have been able to enjoy and experience a time of personal renewal. I must say from the outset that the concept of sabbatical is quite likely foreign to the law enforcement community. But, there are operative principles that may be helpful.

Sabbatical is something that typically happens in academia. Many professors who are on the tenure track are granted a semester's leave for every seven years of service. I have been a pastor for nearly 30 years, and a volunteer law enforcement chaplain for 17; this was the first sabbatical I was ever granted! The term sabbatical derives from the concept of "Sabbath," which originates in the Hebrew scriptures out of the Judaeo-Christian tradition of which I am a part. It first appears in the book of Exodus' version of the Ten Commandments, where the justification given is that the Creator rested on the seventh day after six days of creation. In the second version of the Ten Commandments that appears in the book of Deuteronomy, the justification offered is out of concern for all who labor, that they might have rest. In either case, it worked for me!

I've been a law enforcement chaplain long enough to recognize that, as it is with most chaplains, so it is with most officers. Most of us find it hard to take time away from the job. In addition to hours spent on patrol or in the office, there are training sessions that require our attendance, qualification standards that must be met and there are also those wonderful opportunities for officers that are designated as "special duty" that come with their own economic rewards. So, I'll raise what, for me, is the obvious question: "At what price?"

Now, before you come to the conclusion that all I did was vegetate during my sabbatical, I have a moral obligation to let you know that during the past three months I did more than loaf. I traveled (yes, we did spend a week in Hawaii), I spent time with my wife and each of our three sons, I spent much time in personal reflection, and I spent time reading.

One of the books I read had to do with self-care for those of us who are pastors and/or chaplains. One of the chapters asked the question, "How dry is your well?" For those who are in law enforcement, that may be an appropriate question also. When was the last time you took care of yourself?

Far be it from me to prescribe a set of answers for those of you who are part of the law enforcement community. I'm probably as guilty of neglect as any of you may be. Instead, let me ask some questions on which you and I can reflect?

  • When was the last time you accurately assessed your level of stress?
  • Are you exhibiting any of the classic signs of "burnout?"
  • What physical exercise is part of your weekly regimen, so that you can deal with the effects of physical, emotional and psychological stress?
  • How often do you make time to be completely available to your family?
  • When was the last time you had a good laugh?
  • Do you make time for regular spiritual renewal?

I don't know how long ago it was that I received these "eight ways to control stress." They're helpful to me; they may be to you also:

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