Pastor's Blog

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 4)

There are many reasons I love my wife, "the wonderful Miss Polly." One of those reasons is that Polly has taught me to embrace ... vacation.

Polly has always been highly supportive of my work ethic. Only very rarely over our 34 years (this week!) has Polly challenged me to consider I might be "working too hard." She knows the unpredictable time demands of pastoral ministry. Weeks can go by when routines are as regular as a Swiss watch. Yet unexpected events can so riddle a pastoral calendar that it looks like Swiss cheese. Polly adjusted early on to the fickleness of a pastor's day. 

Throughout our marriage Polly has been firm on two items regarding rest and "re-creation." First, when I'm home, I'm home. My home is not a second office.

For example, we frequently entertain people in our home. Polly is marvelous at putting people at ease. We believe having people in our home is 'strategically' effective pastoral ministry. But much more than 'strategy,' both of us truly enjoy the blessings of personal fellowship with smaller numbers of people. We like smaller groups. We like personal conversation around the table. 

But when the people have left: "I'm home." Or, expanding from intentional hospitality, when the day is done, the office writing saved, the appointments kept and the visits made: "I'm home." Let's be quiet with one another OR let's share about our world. Let's figure out what we're going to do with the basement OR let's dream about our next vacation. But enough conversation about ministry.  No more shop talk. We're done.

 Second item from Polly: there will be vacation. Whether its the large two-week trip like Yosemite, a two-day B & B getaway, or staying four middle-of-the-week days in a "rustic" State Park cabin: there will be vacation. Polly told me early on, "I'm good with your work. Work as hard as you feel you need to work. I won't complain. But I need undivided time apart from work for us to be with one another."

 I married a wise woman.

I was not opposed to the concept of vacation but I didn't know how to do it. Or, at least do it without guilt. 'Surely," I thought, "there needs to be a higher purpose to justify the money of a vacation. Surely there is some ministry, or preparation for further ministry, to serve as the reason to spend valuable time on a vacation."

It did not dawn on me loving my wife and loving my children and taking care of myself were reasons for a vacation. (Let alone, good or worthy reasons!) Never crossed my mind.

Polly helped me learn the spiritual and relational value of vacation. She helped me learn God will love me even if I rest. In fact, being willing to rest is kind'a like a short term exercise in eternal trust. God will take care of me and work things for good ...  even when I'm off the grid for a week.

That was hard for me to learn. Pastor's place a lot of stock in being on the spot problem-solvers and all-purpose hand-holders. The anxiety that surfaces comes in the form of these questions: "Will I have a job when I get back? Am I safe from people who might take my absence as occasion to criticize me? Will they still love me, if I'm not there, with them ... for a week? For two weeks?"

Over the years my relationship with Polly has only deepened because of our vacations. When we were younger at times our vacations were ... how can I say this? ... economical. (And by economical, I mean cheap.) No need to regale with old stories now, but we have stayed in our share of flimsy tents and bargain-basement State Park cabins.

But now those memories are embedded in our hearts. Mostly we remember where we were in our relationship when we took those trips, A rough stretch of adolescent angst with the kids? Yep. Moving through changing roles with our own parents? Yep. Reeling from an extended period of church crisis? Yep. Time to reboot and re-energize for the exciting ministry to come? Yep. And much more. 

Being away on vacation, seeing the glories of the mountains or feeling nature's base rhythm pound the beach in the ocean's waves: these experiences draw our souls to a larger view of life. We experience these things together and we rejoice in them together. 

Polly and I do not go on vacation to be around a lot of people. For us, being around a lot of people is not a vacation. God has placed both of us in spheres of life which, by their very nature, are intensively people-centered. We rejoice in this because we both love people. Yet taking time away from being with people so that we can go some other place and be with more people: this is not vacation.

I have learned from Polly this is, "Okay." I need a vacation from being "on" with people. I have learned from Polly this compulsion is not intrinsic to a life a ministry (though it is an occupational hazard); it is not a problem to be laid at the feet of other people. This is my problem. I have to deal with it. Because, truthfully, being "on" with people is not a good thing. Constantly feeling the need to inhabit a role before others and attend to their expectations is not a good way to live. How I navigate the swirling currents of my own (perhaps flawed) assumptions of how other people perceive me, or what they may want of me: this is my task and not theirs. 

Polly has taught me, over 34 years, to live with an increasing authenticity as myself and with other people. Our vacations over that time gave me safe, sheltered spaces to let those kind of concerns move through my heart, like Elijah's cave allowed him to hear the low whisper of God in the small breeze.

I'd like to think even before our Great Vacation I was already thankful for Polly. I believe I was.  But if God blessed me in no other way on my Great Vacation, then He most certainly blessed me in this way: I thank God for Polly.

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 1)

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 2): July 4th in Yosemite

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 3)

Posted by Tim Alexander with 1 Comments

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 3)

I do not remember many "vacations" in my growing up years. Allow me to clarify because I want to be fair.

In younger years I remember glorious times in the high elevations of northern New Mexico at a camp affiliated with our denomination. My parents worked as staff and, looking back, God used used that camp to create within me a sense of wonder at His creation.

Meadow Loop in Wawona

While in Australia I remember a beach trip to Port Vincent, as well as truly wonderful summer's off from school. Twice, on the journeys between Australia and the U.S., I remember spending languorous days in Fiji, eating fresh coconut in the mornings and hot Indian curry in the evenings.

Toulumne Meadows

I have good memories of my growing up years and cannot moan about a childhood of unending grind. Far from it. I had many good experiences. Yet I believe it is fair to say planning regular times of vacation - just for the sake of vacation - was not a part of my family's way of life. There needed to be a reason to justify trips or departures from the standard routine. That reason needed to be larger than mere ... vacation.

Dog Lake

Surely some kind of ministry can be accomplished, giving purpose to the trip. Surely there are people who need to be visited. Surely there is a conference, a lectureship, or some kind of quasi-religious or spiritual or church event that can justify the travel. 

None of which is ... vacation. No, it is not. You may think it is, but it is not ... vacation. It may be many things and fun may even be a blessed serendipity, but it is not ... vacation. Not if your's is a pastor's family. Not if the routines of your life are wound tightly by the cords of ministry. 

Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Because vacation is time set aside to not do what you're always doing. Vacation is intentionally suspending the working routines of life. And hear me out: I'm a big believer in the working routines of life! I'm not a big believer in "the 40 hour week" or - God save us from the French disease - a 35 hour week! I believe in working and working hard, and with vigor and "stop watching the clock!" Count me among those more concerned with getting the job done well than in wondering how much time it takes to do the job. 

I believe in playing hard, too. God did not make us to rev at high speed all the time. Nor, if we are at all concerned about longevity and creativity, ought we work day after day after day after day after ... . (You get the idea.)

God made us to need and want a Sabbath. God rested and He did not need to rest. God did not need to refill the pools of His sagging imagination; did not need to replenish His depleted stores of energy. But God did rest. He chose to rest.

If God chose to rest, and embedded the Sabbath into the spiritual DNA of His Image Bearers, then neglecting our own rest bucks us up against God's intention for our lives. We neglect times of rest and re-creation at our peril. By foregoing rest we take unto ourselves a prerogative reserved for God: that we can work indefinitely. We can't. Last I looked, only God can do that ... and He rested. 

Our trip to Yosemite affirmed my genuine, God-designed, need for rest. Yet we ended up hiking, all told, around 60 miles. How was this "rest"?

  • First, intentionally, it was not work. Our trip served no other purpose than to lift us away from the routines of work. It required us to lift our eyes and see a larger world. In doing so we deepen our trust in God.
  • Second, because it was Yosemite, it fed our natural hunger for re-creation and beauty. God has made this world and made everything beautiful in its time. God has embedded within us a natural longing, an instinctive response, to genuine, noble beauty. Our vacation made us thankful.

The third reason will be in the next post. 

The next post will also be the last post in this series.

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 1)

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 2): July 4th in Yosemite

Posted by Tim Alexander with

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