As of ten fifteen yesterday morning, I’ve been on Study Break.

For those of you who are new around here, I’ve been the Lead Pastor at Dalhousie Community Church (a good fellowship in Calgary, Alberta) for four years now. Fourteen years ago God launched me into full time ministry as a Youth Pastor. Eyes wide, heart pounding, I dove right in and haven’t looked back. Until now.

Fourteen years, and no Study Break or Sabbatical until now. Most pastors take a leave every five or seven years. Last Spring, I was really starting to feel the burn—one Sunday after church I shuffled myself toward my bedroom and found I could barely make it up the stairs. Jesus pulled me out of that nose dive, but not without a little more wisdom. Time for a Study Break.

Thirty hours in, and I’m starting to reflect on my life. The mirror standing guard in my ensuite bathroom got me started. Which is about when I realized that looking at yourself—I mean, really looking—is a like making eye contact with a shrink with way too much insight into your soul for your own liking.

So I began with the rest of my face. A few age spots have emerged this year, apparently unable to wait until July 11th (at which point I’ll be forty and age spots will be (I hope) easier to accept. Next, the deepening wrinkles around them snagged my attention and I welcomed their story. As far as crow’s-feet go, I like them. They’re laugh lines, carved out by a million smiles as they found ways to express themselves through the clay of my body. I furrowed my brow, testing the bridge of my nose for the tracks of anger and discouragement. I’ve had my share, but they haven’t laid claim to my face, thank God. These wrinkles will stay, now, until Jesus takes me. I’ve officially been defined by joy.

Alas, my eyes were still waiting, ready to begin their siren song. What did I see in and through these windows to my soul? First, a little boy. That part of me that’s never grown up and never will. Unpredictable, adventurous, waving sticks at imaginary dragons and launching epic journeys. Next, I see a sparkle dancing there, not front and centre like it used to be, but not lost under must and mould in the back room, either. So my hope is still alive. Good. The problem is, it’s made room for a relatively new part of me I loathe already—the collegial cynic, the eye-roller, the old man who sits and sighs and mutters, finding a reason (he thinks) to dismiss difficult people with a wave of his hand and complain about everything that doesn’t turn out just right. Centre stage isn’t his, though. I also see wisdom stepping forward, sometimes tentative but growing in stature right under my nose while I chase off the old cynic like a flock of pigeons expecting more bread crumbs. As the cynic retreats, I’m warmed by the realization that the wise part of me and the little boy are the best of friends, that understanding and embracing this friendship is the key to my path forward as a man of God.

I smile at myself. And realize the ability to genuinely do that is a gift greater than gold.

NEXT: What am I?