I was terrible at taking vacations when I first got married 10 years ago. Two days in I would think, “Ok, that’s enough rest; time to get back to work!” The rest of the time I would be anxiously looking forward to the day when we would return from vacation so I could start working again. But I’ve learned that such an attitude toward vacation is not healthy.
As the years roll on, the losses pile up–loss of friendship, loss of trust, loss of important people in your lives. It’s a lot to process. I forget who said it now, but someone said something to the effect that, “Ministry is a series of un-grieved losses.” I now believe that’s right. That’s why vacation is so important. It takes time to properly grieve– sometimes a lot of time, sometimes a lot of unstructured time where there are no significant demands on your brain.
In the past, I would still dabble with work while I was on vacation. A quick check of email here; reading a leadership book there. Through such things, I was immediately transported back to work, maybe not physically, but definitely mentally. So this year I decided that I was not going to do any work. I was actually going to vacate! So I set a few guidelines for myself. First, I was not going to check email at all. I mean, at all. This was probably the hardest yet most important practice that I could implement. Nothing sucks you back into work like email! But the important thing to remember is that nothing important happens through email. Think about it. How many emails have you gotten that are actually important to respond to? How many emails have you gotten that something bad would happen if you didn’t respond? Probably not many.
The second guideline I implemented for myself was to not read about work. What I noticed is that my reading choices played a big part in my connection, or lack thereof, to work. When preparing to go on vacation, I would often load my bag with books, most of them theology or church leadership books. I would think to myself: “Now that I free time I’ll finally get around to those ministry books I’ve been putting off for so long!” But when I would read those ministry books, inevitably I would be sucked right back into the ministry world. This time, I only brought books I had to read for school and novels. I always have loved reading fiction but now I actually had the opportunity to read some. Reading novels is not “productive” in the sense that it checks items off of a to do list. But reading novels is productive in the sense that it is restful–mindful enjoyment of God’s creation. Cal Newport also talks about the importance of downtime and “boredom” in his book Deep Work. Downtime, like reading novels, actually replenishes are ability to be productive.
So after implementing these basic guidelines, what was been the result? I noticed that it took about three days of work detox for all the built up exhaustion, anxiety, and restlessness to work itself out. But I have noticed after three days, my mind is clearer. I have less anxiety and worry about work simmering in the back of my thoughts. I am also more present with my kids and actually have clearer focus on what needs to happen. It has also increased my trust in God’s sovereignty. It has forced me to trust Him to shepherd the flock at LBC. He is the one making ministry happen, not me.