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Do You Need a ‘Fallow Year’? The Ancient Art of a Year of Rest

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Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

‘You reap what you sow’ is a powerful principle describing the way that much of life works. Plant a seed of goodness, kindness or faith, and a harvest of that same quality will follow later. But there’s another related concept we sometimes miss. The sowing-and-reaping metaphor assumes the seed is sown into healthy soil. What if it’s not? What happens when we keep trying to get a harvest from an exhausted life?

God once told the earliest farmers to introduce a ‘fallow year’ into their practices to ensure their ground had opportunities to rejuvenate. Perhaps we should incorporate one into our lives too. That’s what I shared on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought segment recently. Do you need a ‘fallow year’? 

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The Fallow Year

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I’d spent years looking on. I’d enjoyed watching it on telly. I’d seen Lionel Richie give the performance of his life and Ed Sheeran transfix thousands with just a guitar and a pedal board. But I wanted to see and hear all that loud, muddy goodness in person, and I thought 2018 was my year to do it—my year to get to Glastonbury Festival.

Then the news came: there would be no Glastonbury 2018 because the fields needed a rest. Every six years the venue, Worthy Farm, takes a ‘fallow year’ to let the ground replenish from all those stomping wellingtons. 2019 it is then.

The metaphor of sowing and reaping is a powerful one to live by. The seeds we sow now, whether of kindness, goodness, forgiveness or generosity (or conversely, anger, bitterness, greed or revenge) grow into something larger later on. But the metaphor assumes we’re planting into healthy soil. That’s where the fallow year comes in as another powerful principle to explore.

It goes back to the book of Exodus where God tells his people to let their fields rest every seventh year. No planting, tending or harvesting for those twelve months—just let the soil rejuvenate. We reap what we sow, and the harvest will be small if the ground is exhausted.

Woman relaxing in armchairPhoto by freestocks.org on Unsplash

I wonder then what would happen if we incorporated a fallow year into our lives the way farmers do in their farming. A year to replenish our energies and prepare for the next season. A year to rejuvenate and renew.

I know a woman who is currently between careers. She’s taking odd jobs to pay the bills while she explores what she might do next. It’s her fallow year. She’s loving it. A man I know has taken twelve months off to do some study. A couple I know has intentionally reduced their commitments after a busy season of work. They’re all taking a fallow year.

There’s a cost to this though—lost productivity, lost progress, lost income from lost ticket sales. When the people of Exodus worry about this God in essence says, “Trust me. Give me the fallow year and the following years will be even more bountiful.”

We reap what we sow, and our harvest will be small if the soil of our lives is exhausted.

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Have you ever tried having a ‘fallow year’? What would stop you? Leave a comment below now or call me using the ‘Send Voicemail’ button on the right. Please also rate and share this podcast on iTunes to help others discover it!

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  • Arul John

    Thank you for sharing this Sheridan! Needed to hear this and the message of the fallow year resonated with me because I feel dry and exhausted after years of work. Not that I have not enjoyed the working years, but I feel increasingly jaded and void of new ideas and look for a fresh touch. But how can I afford to slow down for even three months, let alone a year, in hustle and bustle Singapore, where I come from?

    • That’s a good question – and your next prayer point for the rest of the year :). What aspects of your life can intentionally stop, drop or at least place on hold? Or looking from the other direction, what activities or projects would most rejuvenate you? Plan those in and see what needs to shift to make time for them.

      • Arul John

        That is a good idea and one worthy of introspection. I love t write and I want to explore writing more. But there are other things that have captured my heart and I increasingly feel that “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through”. But what you shared is still worthy of consideration. Thanks Sheridan!

  • Helen Murray

    Excellent piece, Sheridan, and I am quite sure an echo from God as only a week ago the same words came up in a conversation I was having about being exhausted and overwhelmed. I long for a fallow year – term, month, week, day! – but I cannot work out how to do it, with family commitments, running a business from home, children… I feel as if I’m on a hamster wheel and I am so, so tired, but I just can’t see what might give without compromising someone else’s life? I used to be so much more involved at church, I used to have my own dreams and ambitions for writing, but those things are already shelved. How to find the spacious place?

    • I would love to know what you come up with, Helen. It seems clear you need a lightened load – for the kid’s sake as much as yours. No doubt there are some seasons in life where a Fallow Year is more difficult because of those ongoing commitments, but could this be something you and your husband take a weekend to talk and pray through? I trust there would be something that came of it.

  • Bruce Abernethy

    Entering a “new chapter” personally – all kids graduated – changes at work – ministries going well, etc. Doing what you are describing now. Cutting back on weekly meetings, commitments. I’m also going through the “stuff” (e.g. books, tools, projects, piles, buckets) and getting rid of anything that isn’t needed in the present and foreseeable future. It is interesting how the stuff, I’ve basically hoarded, has turned into “trophies of past success” (in a not-so-good way). They are a “security blanket” of personal worth, which should not come from things – this is not my identity in Christ. Getting rid of these things pulls me to the present and leaves me going back to Christ for my support, guidance, and focus. Why am I still here? What do you have for me next God? I feel like God has moved on from some past events, that were an awesome blessing and very fruitful, but I have stayed in many ways frozen in the “good old days”. To take some time now to honor those times and blessings, but in a sense give them back to God and see how he might multiply those talents going forward (unbury my talents if you will). So this is a very timely article and insight for me – thanks for sharing.

    • “It is interesting how the stuff I’ve basically hoarded, has turned into trophies of past success…” This is very insightful, Bruce. What a great time to be relinquishing these symbols as part of your year of putting life in order. Thanks for sharing this – I’ll be taking much of what you’ve said on board.

  • Sarah Muir

    Yes, I am just wrapping up my fallow year, I had a year off to go to bible college. It was transformative to my life. The first 6 months were a challenge as I had to learn to let go, trust and rest in God and it’s something I have never done. So I found that I have a habit of stressing and would naturally begin to stress and create work and business for myself even when there’s nothing to stress about and no work to do. It has been a funny revelation but valuable. I have discovered that many things aren’t as important as we make them out to be and God really does want to guide us in life, carry our cares and let the burden be light. Now I just need to figure out how to come out of my fallow year!!

    • It sounds like the lesson learnt from your Fallow year will stay with you for years to come. So good, Sarah. Thanks for sharing.