COVID Sabbatical

Looking back, the months of the COVID crisis were a time of healing for my husband and me. We lived in western Montana and didn’t experience hardships felt in other states. But we needed respite from other life crises.

My husband is a pastor. We have been in ministry for over 30 years and at this particular church for eight years. We felt called and privileged to serve this congregation.

Two years ago, a trusted church leader was working to undermine and destroy Paul’s ministry. The whole situation took months to untangle and resolve. We spent many hours in prayer and cried buckets of tears, trying to find a solution. Finally, with the help of the higher church authority and support from most people in the church, the ring leader and his followers were asked to leave our congregation.

Biblically, our leadership did the right thing, but it nearly destroyed Paul. He is a gentle-man who loves the Word of God and bases his preaching solidly on Scripture. His whole life has been focused on bringing people into fellowship with Jesus Christ, not asking them to leave.

By January 2020, the stress level in our home was off the charts. Paul was depressed and developed several other physical issues. Little by little, my husband was slipping away.

Efforts to help him only made him draw deeper into himself, which made me louder and angrier. Every aspect of our life was crumbling. He refused to get counseling. Even our daughters, who adore their dad, could not get him to recognize his need for help.

We have been married for 44 years. Besides being in the ministry, which is hard on any marriage, we were in a car accident 43 years ago, leaving me with paraplegia.

We have learned to live with plenty and very little. Jesus is the third cord that holds us together, and we enjoy each other’s company. We thought we had faced it all, but we had never gone through anything happening at the time. Defeated, I sought counseling, alone, and asked strategic people to pray.

Finally, after weeks of arguments and conflicts, my anger, hurt, and pain reached a boiling point. I yelled at Paul, “If you don’t do something to get some help physically, mentally, and spiritually, I am done with you and will leave.” I couldn’t believe those words even came out of my mouth. I didn’t mean I would divorce him; I meant I would find someplace else to live.

I called our area minister and told him what had happened. He took steps to help Paul see the need for counseling and medical attention. He also started the process of assisting Paul to take a three-month sabbatical from church. The congregation voted unanimously to give him the paid time for healing.

We went to counseling together. Paul cut back on his work hours and decided to put forth an effort to get his health back. On Feb. 5th, Paul’s 65th birthday, we went to the doctor for his yearly checkup. The doctor could see Paul’s poor physical condition as soon as we walked into the office. His most urgent need was the terrible back pain which kept him from walking normally. The doctor referred him to other doctors for treatment.

The log jam broke, and we were rushing downstream to answers and healing. In 3 weeks, Paul received surgery to alleviate the pain, lost 20 lbs, got help with his other medical issues, and started to talk to me again.

He was supposed to return to the pulpit two weeks after back surgery, the last time to preach before his sabbatical. I thought it was too soon, which could cause further injury. I took my concern to the Father. On that Sunday morning, we woke up to the news that many churches in our area were closing due to the pandemic. This news was a direct answer to my prayer.

Paul had no choice but to stay home, not knowing how long this situation would last. He had already set up the schedule for replacements during his sabbatical; all of his responsibilities were covered.

Paul had nothing to do but heal. He slept a lot. The longer we postponed church, the better Paul felt. We got more counseling, individually and together. I was made aware of my disrespectful, UN-Christlike behavior, and my need to repent and forgive. I took steps to do so; my heart received healing as well. Paul had to have two other surgeries, which he recovered from quickly. He started to understand the stress and concern from the past months. His beautiful smile and sense of humor returned.

We had planned on taking some trips during our sabbatical, but those were canceled as well, due to COVID. We spent a lot of time reading on the deck, renewing our friendship, and learning how to communicate better. We sought God’s purpose for our life together. The much-needed sabbatical stretched from 3 to 4 and 1/2 months. God’s timing was perfect.

¹James 1:2-4 (NASB) Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces (endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

My heart aches for the people so deeply affected by the circumstances of COVID, but that situation turned out to be a blessing for us. We will remember Spring 2020 as our COVID sabbatical. And as we pray for an end to the suffering and illness, we trust God’s faithfulness to bring healing.

²God reminded us about Psalm 46:10 (NLT) He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

¹James 1:2-4 (NASB) The Lockman Foundation
² Psalm 46:10 (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


Preview(opens in a new tab)

My name is Lucy Keller.  I live in Missoula, Montana with my husband Paul. Both of our grown daughters live and work here as well. 

I am a homemaker, swim coach, seamstress and writer. Born and raised in Laramie, Wyoming, I love the mountains, the wind and being outdoors in my garden.

God, and His Son Jesus, have been my source of strength as I have  journeyed through  the years of being a paraplegic. My desire is to point others to the hope of Jesus in all I do.