A Solitude Sabbatical: Pastor Steve Smickley's Story

By Eric Annino

Pastor Steve Smickley and his wife, Kristen, were married in 1984 in San Diego, California, and now have two adult children, Sheldon and Allyssia, and reside in Wilmington, Delaware. After serving in the navy, Steve has enjoyed helping local “start-up” churches throughout the US, including Sacramento, CA; Deptford, NJ; Delaware County, PA; and now Wilmington, DE. He has served the ccdelco community for over 20 years.

Think about how hard it is for us, in 2018, to rest one day a week, as God prescribed at creation. No surfing the internet, cleaning, shopping, or running kids around. Just pure enjoyment—taking a walk, eating around a table with friends and family, or relaxing with a novel.

Now consider that in Leviticus 25 God commanded the Israelites to practice what was essentially an entire year of rest. This wasn’t just a Sabbath; it was a sabbatical, in the true definition of the word. Who but college professors can get away with that much time off these days?

The point is, God’s heart toward us is generous—intent on getting us to rest, and more importantly, to reflect. Quiet moments alone with our thoughts and our God are often the greatest opportunities for revelation and growth.

This was certainly the case for Pastor Steve Smickley. 

In 2016, during an extended period away from his pastoral duties, Steve found rest and revelation in the solitude of nature, the works of great authors, and the godly consult of trusted men and women. Ultimately, though, he found validation of his calling as a pastor and a new direction in ministry.


At ccdelco’s twenty-year mark, Steve and a few other pastors were given the chance to take a four-week sabbatical. Determined to use his time wisely, Steve laddered his four-weeks with two weeks of vacation time, giving himself a six-week period to rest and reflect. At the time, Steve was feeling a call away from full-time ministry at ccdelco and questioning God about what his next journey might be. So the sabbatical could not have come at a better time.

It started off on an epic note. Steve and his wife, Kristen, spent two weeks in Hawaii—a long-overdue thirtieth anniversary getaway. During the trip, Steve made sure to carve out periods of solitude, waking up early for quiet time with God, and then venturing out for a four- or five-hour period to be in creation: the water, waves, and endless sky and sand. This daily alone time enabled Steve to examine his feelings of unrest, consider their roots, and allow God to work.

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster defines solitude as “inner fulfillment” and points out that Jesus was a habitual solitude seeker. He sought solitude not to avoid people, but to “hear the divine Whisper better.” 

Think about it: Jesus began His ministry with 40 days of solitude in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11); He spent time alone on the eve of selecting His twelve apostles (Luke 6:12); and He sought an empty corner of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion (Matthew 26:36-46), to name a few of many instances. “[T]he seeking out of solitary places,” says Foster, “was a regular practice for Jesus. So it should be for us.” 

Steve continued to take this to heart upon returning home to Delaware. With Kristen back at work, he essentially had a month of days to himself. Solitude looks different for everyone. 

“My approach to solitude,” Steve explained to me, “wasn’t as much a full-out escape into the wilderness as a series of mini-escape periods.” Most often, this involved the quiet of nature: hiking and biking in the state parks of Northern Delaware and boating on the Chesapeake. 

Most of us equate solitude with silence, but for Steve, actual silence is difficult. “I have tinnitus so I need to have something to drown that out, whether it’s the noise of a bike tire on a gravel path, the sound of a stream, or even a podcast.” Solitude can simply be anything that enables you to clearly hear your own thoughts and hear from God.

Steve paired his nature escapes with time spent reading authors who could “connect with my soul in their writing.” He journaled. He meditated on everything he was reading. And he sought counsel from godly men and women, who, as Steve puts it, “would hear me and also speak truth to me.” He visited friends he hadn’t seen in a long time, even venturing to the Poconos for a day to hike and pay a visit to an old friend—something he couldn’t have accomplished without a sabbatical.


Steve’s six weeks off came with a heavy dose of brokenness and repentance. “Which was all a good thing, but I came out of the sabbatical still discontent, knowing that God had something different for me that I was yet unaware of,” he admits.

The true inflection point came at the ccdelco men’s retreat in early 2017. 

“During my sabbatical, God confirmed my calling as a shepherd. He revealed to me that my calling wasn’t necessarily tied to ccdelco and that, in fact, I had made my position at ccdelco something of an idol. But it wasn’t until I heard Jonathan Evans preach at the men’s retreat, on Abraham’s call in Genesis, the call into an unknown land, which Abraham boldly took, that I knew it was time for me to go on a new journey with God.”

But Steve had no idea what that new journey looked like. He wanted God to show him first, before approaching Pastor Bob and church leadership about a move. After the retreat, it became clear that God had a different sequence in mind. So he took a bold step of faith.

“I told Bob I had to go. He asked, ‘where,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Pastor Bob helped Steve scale back his responsibilities at ccdelco so he could devote time to prayerfully exploring where God was leading him. Eventually, he was led—by Kristen, through a series of rekindled relationships—to Grace Church of Wilmington, where Steve assumed the roles of Elder and Teaching Pastor in January 2018.


The sabbatical was a timely gift for Steve. He recognizes his own capacity these days and that he needs to draw a line in the sand when it comes to the amount of noise he allows in his life. 

His time of solitude taught him that rest is a state of the heart and can be maintained even upon going back to the “real world.” Just as Christ rested in the middle of a storm, so can we if we truly abide in our loving Father (instead of worrying about the boat, trying to fix the boat, or focusing on the storm). 

One of Steve’s greatest gifts is his ability to connect deeply with individuals, and he’s excited to keep rest, self-
reflection, and communion with the Father a priority in order to have the necessary fuel to minister to others in the next step of his journey.