It was fun while it lasted.  My wife Rolane and I just returned from a week in a seaside condo in Huntington Beach, CA.  We came back home just before the U.S. Open surfing championship there, in time to escape the record throng that attended.

It won’t be long before a new semester starts up here at Talbot. And in order to be any kind of blessing to people in the days ahead, we knew there would have to be a time for disengagement and refreshing.  I’m not sure if we succeeded totally, but there seems to be a renewed spring in our step as we approach the new academic year.

It occurred to me that some of you might benefit from a few observations we’ve made over the years, both in the pastorate and at Talbot concerning vacations and how to manage them.  So, here goes:

Take a vacation– This may seem obvious, but many people in ministry do not indulge themselves in such activity.  They see it as a waste of precious time in light of the vast needs around them.  Jesus was not unaware of great need, but did not let that stop him from taking time out to commune with the Father and be physically and spiritually refreshed (Mark 1:32-37).  As you plan times away, be sure to be realistic in your expectations.  Different life stages often dictate your itinerary.  When our kids were little and money was tight, our vacations consisted of camping trips to local parks and visits to the relatives.  Now that our nest is empty and there’s a bit more in the budget, we can travel to more exotic destinations, or just stay home and putz around the back yard.
In addition, it is a good idea to try for longer breaks.  If you receive a few weeks’ vacation a year it is wise to take at least two of them together.  At the very least, it’s a good idea to have two consecutive Sundays off, as this gives you a chance to truly remove yourself from the daily pressure of pastoral service.  As well, make sure you disconnect the technological leashes that keep you from getting rest.  Cell phones and email are blessed inventions, but not your friends when trying to get a break from the routine of ministry.  We have these conveniences, but exercise great care in their use when we’re on vacation.  
Do the right things on your vacation– A friend of ours shared that before he left for his holiday, he did an all-nighter to get ready to preach at a church where he vacationed.  I am puzzled.  Not that we can’t serve the Lord when away, but this guy needed the break and didn’t get it.  My dad would have shaken his head at such behavior.  Like a minister, he was what he did – he was a farmer.  Our annual vacations were often 2 weeks at a beautiful lake in northern Iowa.  He left 300 head of cattle and the entire farm in the hands of a neighbor, took his boat and went fishing.  He knew how to regress… he disengaged from his normal routine to enjoy other blessings of God’s world.  Being absorbed by something other than our life’s work can be very restorative.  I even enjoy this aspect of my hobby of woodworking.  It gives me a vacation for a day, or even a few hours as I am focused on the physics, art and mechanics of woodcraft (and keeping my fingers attached to my hand).

As well, we should consider reflecting on the days past, reviewing God’s blessing through the challenges and opportunities we have experienced.  There is much to celebrate and not a little to learn from His work in our lives and ministries.  Rolane and I have enjoyed some special conversations during our times away this summer pondering our life, work, and future here at Talbot.  We have examined our motives for ministry and the priorities we want to set for ourselves in the coming months.  And having these talks while rested has made them all the more enjoyable and productive.

End your vacation purposefully – It’s not unusual for vacations to end with a whimper or a groan.  As such they end negatively, which does not make re-entry very enjoyable.  For me personally, the only way I can re-engage with joy and purpose is to do two things:  (1) show up for work, and (2) recommit to my calling. 

There is something therapeutic about getting your hands back into the work after a good break.  As our vacation days are ending, I’m getting a little anxious about some of the obligations coming up soon.  I’ve always had a tendency to fret a bit about details (my sister says I’m a perfectionist), and the best thing for me to do is get back into the fray and ‘just do it’.

But as I reenter the work, I’m also aware that there’s a need for me to recommit to God’s call on my life to be a servant leader.  You see, vacations are largely geared to minister to our needs.  But ministry is somewhat of a polar opposite.  That’s why I need to be reminded that my work is that of a servant.  I’m a shepherd whose privilege it is to feed, lead, guard, heal and visit the sheep.  As the Lord gently updates me on this essential truth, I’m more ready to do the work He has called me to do for His glory.  Going back to Mark’s gospel, when Jesus is found by his disciples, having had his break in a secluded place, he responds to their statement that ‘everyone is looking for you’ by sharing his real purpose and calling.  “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.” (1:37-38).  He was ready to plunge into the work and honor the call of the Father.

Start planning your next vacation – It has been noted by many that the anticipation of a special event can often be more energizing than the event itself.  Remember how excited you used to get in school as summer vacation approached?  That same kind of emotional boost can come through planning for your next get-away.  Instead of focusing only on the passing of recent good times, set to dreaming about your next adventure.  Whether a full-fledged vacation or day away, you’ll feel your spirits lifted as you think about the possibilities.  Next summer I’d like to consider visiting the Scandinavian countries.  But then there’s always a trip to visit our wonderful alumni in Hawaii.  Decisions, decisions!