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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.

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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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