It has been about six months since I have had a break of longer than a day or two. Since the Sunday after Christmas, I have been producing and preaching two sermons a week, leading two Bible studies for most of that time, seeing people dealing with a variety of issues and struggles, and officiated at nine funerals. During that time, I have tried to take regular breaks during the day, during the week and occasional longer breaks, although I am still wondering if a two day retirement planning seminar actually qualifies as a break.
But in spite of the breaks, the cumulative effects of ministry have begun to show: it is harder and harder to write my sermons–the ideas just don’t seem to come; it is more and more difficult to go see people–the excuses for not going sound better and better; work related reading is happening less and less–the pointless, mind-numbing call of Solitaire or Youtube becomes louder and louder. I am tired and worn out. I am not depressed yet–but I sense that it is just around the corner.
Normally, I don’t go that long without some sort of longer break but a variety of circumstances came together and made a week long break impossible. Now, some of the pastors I have run into along the way would have suggested that in the end, I need to stop whining and get on with the work. I am a pastor. I have been called by God to the ministry I do. God gives me the strength that I need to do this work. It is vital work and people are deeply in need and God needs me to get at it. Pastors don’t have the luxury of fatigue or tiredness or down time, or so the traditional line goes. Fatigue is all in my mind–and besides, there will be plenty of time for rest in heaven.
Even though I have heard and read and seen this example for most of my ministry, I have never really bought it. Part of that might be because my physical make up is such that when I need to sleep, I need to sleep–none of the traditional work arounds (coffee, tea, cola, prayer, exercise, denial) actually work for me for very long. Even the most powerful work around for me–coffee–really only gives me a few more hours. Eventually, I am going to sleep.
Trying to ignore that reality has created all sorts of interesting scenarios: I have fallen asleep in meetings; I have fallen asleep in the staff room while typing on the computer; I fall asleep while reading; I have fallen asleep in worship–not while I have been preaching, yet. And, in a couple of very sobering incidents, I have fallen asleep while driving. Those, more than anything convinced me that I am not superman and that when I am tired, I need to pay attention and do something to really deal with the fatigue.
Ministry is a fulfilling and demanding process, whether it is done professionally as I do it or as a lay person. Ministry always involves giving of ourselves to others–if we are not giving of ourselves, we are not really engaged with the people we are ministering to and we are not likely doing what God calls us to do.
Ministry is so demanding that as important as mini-sabbaths are, they really can’t clear away all the accumulated fatigue and tiredness. While it is important to have sabbath rests daily, weekly and monthly, we also need to allow ourselves a longer and more significant break, a period of time when we can let it all go for a time.
The world will continue on while we are resting. God will still accomplish his will while we are taking a break. People with needs will find a way to meet those needs while we are unavailable. But if we don’t take the break we need, we will most likely find ourselves at the end of a shortened ministry, probably needing someone to give us some serious ministry.
Why have I been spending so much time on the topic of breaks and sabbaths? Simple–I am tired, I recognize my own need of a break and the plane tickets are booked. I may not be the world’s greatest pastor, but I have learned to minister to myself and take the breaks I need.
May the peace of God be with you.