There are certain times when my office sits empty.
Sometimes it’s because I just work better at coffee shops for some reason. Sometimes it’s because part of my work as a pastor is to be with people, and those people aren’t always at the church.
But this summer it has largely been because I’m on vacation. I have one more on the books, the first one that Rhonda and I will be taking without kids in over 4 years. And I have to be honest with you about why, especially this summer, I’m using up all my vacation time…and why you should, too.
Reason #5: I’m never not a pastor unless I’m gone. And even then I usually am. As I approach the 10 year mark in this profession, I am becoming more and more aware of this reality. Now, I know pastors aren’t the only people who feel this way about their jobs, but I’ll let you in on a little secret:
If, by some miracle, I make a friend who is not a parishioner, and who did not know me before I was a pastor, you know what I tell them that I do for a living? I tell them I work for a non-profit…and that I don’t like talking about work. Because the minute I tell them I’m a pastor, I either a) become their pastor/counselor with no chance of reciprocity, or b) become seen as the morality police, and the relationship significantly changes.
Vacations, being with family, these become grounding experiences where I am reminded that I am not just a pastor, but a father, husband, son, and yes, friend.
And you are those things, too. And if you forget that, you need to go on vacation.
Reason #4: I’m allotted the time, but no one expects me to take it. Even I don’t normally expect that I’ll take it. And so when this summer came around and I had the opportunity after, frankly, a difficult year, to spend extra time with family far and near, I decided to set my calendar…even though I didn’t think I should.
How amazing is that? I didn’t think I should. And I didn’t think I should because, implicitly and explicitly, I have been trained to see my work as my measure of worth and value, and that is just not true.
One of the reasons I’m offered a generous time-off package is because I work a lot when other people aren’t working like, oh, every weekend (and most every holiday except for 4th of July requires me in a funny robe). And having sat next to people on their deathbeds on many occasions, none of them wax nostalgically on their time in the office. They wax on their time with family, “away”…and, well, I want some stuff to wax about.
And you should want some, too. I sit with people on their deathbeds, and not once have they regretted a vacation opportunity they took, even in the face of mountains of work. Go on vacation.
Reason #3: When I’m “off,” I’m not off. This is closely related to issue #5, but not exactly the same. In this world of hyper-connectivity, even when I leave the office my “work day” doesn’t end until I close my eyes, and it begins with a “quick email check” the minute I open my eyes. It’s a personal problem.
Oh, and that emergency number knows no clock…which it shouldn’t. There’s a reason we have an emergency number, and please know that I am always willing to rush to the hospital. But that means I am on call. And it is something you should know about your pastor: they feel as if they are always on call, because by and large, they are.
And I’ve noticed, especially as my children have gotten older, that the divided life I lead between watching them with one eye, while keeping the other eye on my iPhone, has been destructive for my spirit and my parenting (let alone my “spousing”). Jesus says we are to give away ourselves for others, but that means I have to have something to give away.
Let me be very honest for a moment with you: I am jealous that you get to leave Friday late-afternoon and come back Sunday night from mini-holidays to the beach or to the mountains or to the lake. With my work schedule, we can sometimes leave Friday evening, but we always have to be back Saturday night. And if there’s a wedding or a funeral or a church event or…I mean, it just doesn’t work out.
And if none of that resonates with you, remember that the Sabbath is instituted by God. Do you take an actual Sabbath? I often don’t…and I need to.
Vacations can, if we allow them, be times that we are actually, truly off (even though that’s not always the case). And if you are leading a divided life, with one eye on the things you love and the other eye on the things other people think you should love, you need a vacation.
Reason #2: My grandfather. He worked for “Ma Bell,” as he called it. Southern Bell at the time. Union work, which allowed him to retire early, support a family, have a great pension, and live a good life; it taught him the value of a work week. Jobs like that are scarce anymore. But he told me once that his people (union folks) worked hard to make sure that 40 hours a week was the standard unit for work in these United States, and that though I would probably work over 40 hours, it shouldn’t be the norm. And if it was the norm, he said, “well, what did we work so hard for?”
Well, it’s the norm. And not only is it the norm, it’s the expectation for most salaried professionals. For you, probably. Which is a problem, and it is killing our ability to work so we can live, and pushes us into the living to work category of existence, save for the privileged few who have 4 hour work weeks.
Do honest work. Do good work. To meaningful work, a full 40 hours of it. And then we should honestly rest. Good rest. Rest with meaning and intention.
Reason #1: I love my family more than my work. I have to say that because, well, I’m not sure they can tell that by my behavior most of the time. It is just true that, as a pastor, I put other people’s families in front of my own. A lot. And while I can’t make up for lost time, I can look toward the future with intention. Vacationing is one way I can do it.
And don’t get me wrong, I love these people, and I (usually) love my work. But do I love it more than the first calling I had, to be husband and parent and son, to be faithful to that first claim upon my life? No, I do not. And if I don’t want to become resentful, and if I do not want my family to resent my work, I have to attend to the balancing act somehow…imperfect as I walk it.
So, what about you? Do you love your family more than your work?
The ability to vacation at all is such a privilege in this world, and it’s not afforded to everyone…I realize this. How can my work as a pastor speak to that inequality, while also being honest about my own need to be away? How can your work do the same?