Vacation. A respite from the drain of everyday life. On your time away you can do challenging things like mountain climbing or wind surfing (though I don’t know why anyone would) or you can simply sit on a beach for days at a time (I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t). Regardless of your preference, vacation is supposed to be about one thing. Rest.
I’ve had two vacations since I started the pastoral life. The first was last summer. The whole family drove to Michigan to stay at a friend’s house on Lake Michigan. The house is amazing. You literally walk steps to a beautiful beach on the lake. We were very blessed that they allowed us to use their home. But early on there were big problems.
Gabriella (our 3 year old) started throwing up on day two of the trip. Three days later, Anna and I both realized we were getting major colds. This wasn’t the relaxing time away that we were expecting! In fact, we came back from our week “on the beach” far more exhausted than when we left.
Fast forward to last week. Anna and I spent two months looking forward to traveling to Arkansas with the kids. There’s a great ministry in Russellville, Arkansas that rents a home to pastors and their family for a super cheap rate. They just want to give folks in ministry a chance to feel refreshed. On the way we saw some friends in Kansas City. On the way back, we planned to see friends and family in Tennessee and Kentucky (while stopping for some great food in Memphis). And during the week in Arkansas we were just going to hang out. Maybe we’d go to Little Rock one day. Maybe we wouldn’t. It was going to be a chance for us to decompress and share uninterrupted time with the kids. But then it happened.
Anna woke up the first morning in Arkansas with a right knee that was three times the size of her left knee. It was starting to hurt too. I searched around for an orthopedic surgeon (in small town Arkansas) and found a great one. He discovered that the swelling in Anna’s knee was caused by blood and he suggested emergency arthroscopic surgery to see what was wrong. One knee surgery, hospital stay, and brand new set of crutches later, Anna was back at the rental home where she would spend the rest of the week either in bed or on the couch with her right leg elevated. Far from relaxing. She started physical therapy the day we got home.
Two vacations down. Zero days of relaxation.
I don’t write to try to make you feel sorry for me. Far from it. Instead I want you to know what God reinforced in my mind when I reflected on these two trips: we need to rest regularly, not just during planned time away.
The concept isn’t novel. It’s thoroughly Biblical (4th Commandment, anyone?) and makes perfect sense. We can’t survive if we’re running 100 miles an hour 6 or more days a week without any periods of significant rest. The leaders of our denomination (EFCA) encourage pastors to take at least one solid day off per week (for rest and time with God and family). They ask us to take one day off per month for a spiritual retreat. (There’s really nothing more refreshing than spending a whole day alone with the Lord). And (in addition to regular vacation time) they urge pastors to take a sabbatical of at least two months every 5 years.
I know not everyone can do all of this (how many employers give you two months off with pay?). But I hope you’re tracking with me as to the importance of regularly resting. There is nothing in our lives that God can’t handle without us. We dishonor Him when we think otherwise. When we say, “there will be plenty of time for sleep in heaven” we may find that we’re there a lot earlier than we might otherwise be.
So let’s make a New Year’s Resolution together. Let’s agree to take regular periods of rest: every day, week, month, and year. And let’s see how God uses it in our lives. I think we’ll find the world keeps spinning even when we’re resting and we’re of more use to those around us after a break.