I am now back at work after a two week vacation, which I enjoyed and appreciated. But as the vacation was winding down, I realized something. Normally, when I am on vacation, one of the low level background activities going on in my mind concerns whatever ministry or ministries I happen to be involved in. In the past, I have vacationed and during the down time, I have planned courses, worked on preaching plans, thought about directions for ministry and so on. This just sort of happened and didn’t take time and energy from the vacation–I could paddle a canoe, enjoy the lake, talk to my family and still organize a preaching plan enough so that when I actually sat down at a desk, I could remember the plan.
But this vacation, I didn’t do that. Well, I did give some thought to a Bible Study I am leading for the local church council later this fall during one of the times my wife was sleeping during the drive to Quebec but that was it. I didn’t do sermon planning. I didn’t organize the self-evaluation process some of the churches will begin in a couple of weeks. I didn’t look at what we can do to improve our community visibility and involvement. I didn’t even work on the new Bible study that I actually needed to have done for the first day back at work.
I would like to say that this comes from a newly discovered maturity that allows me to be on vacation when I am on vacation. We clergy have a terrible time taking time off–we all too often treat vacation time as time to get caught up and maybe even get a bit ahead. Of course, we all know that we are not supposed to do that. Study after study shows that stress and its related consequences are enhanced by not taking proper time off. We clergy struggle to relax and unwind. Partly that is the nature of our calling–our work is never really done. As I often told students, “You can preach the best sermon ever on Sunday–but you then have to start getting ready for next Sunday.”
Another part of the inability to really relax is our personality. Many of us in ministry are deeply committed to serving God and therefore somewhat driven. We believe that we have been called by God to important work and breaks, vacations and relaxation somehow seem sinful so we try to appease our conscience by working even on breaks. I remember one book on pastoral ministry telling readers that the absolute best use of vacation time was to prepare the next year’s sermon plan.
But in spite of all of that and years of practise, I didn’t do any church work while on vacation–and didn’t even think of the churches all that much. But I am pretty sure that it wasn’t because I have finally matured and developed wisdom and positive self-care practises. I think that in the end, I didn’t think about or do work because I didn’t want to.
I have been involved in ministry for a long time and while I still believe I have a lot more ministry to do, I am tired. Not physically tired and not spiritually tired–and not even emotionally tired. I think I am vocationally tired. Ministry is demanding and complex and difficult when done well–and I think I have reached the point where I can’t really do what I used to do.
Just like my bad knees won’t let me walk for hours a day like I used to so my ministry engines are getting worn and tired and need a real break. It doesn’t mean that I care less about the people I minister to. It isn’t a sign that I don’t care about my preaching any more. It doesn’t say that I am not concerned with the self-examination process we are beginning. What it says to me is that I don’t have the energy I used to have and I really need to take real breaks. When I work, I work–and when I rest, I rest.
Probably if I had started actually using vacation to rest years ago, I wouldn’t be as vocationally tired now–but at least I have learned to do it now.
May the peace of God be with you.