Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Vacation

Did I mention I'm on vacation for the next couple of weeks?  Well, I'm on vacation for the next couple of weeks.  

Funny thing about vacation.  I was talking to a friend (not a member of our church) who seemed confused by my going away.  "You mean they let you have vacation?" she asked in honest confusion.

"Of course," I said.  "To not go on vacation would be sinful."  I meant it though she gave me a skeptical glance, as if to say, "Yeah, right."

In the end, she scoffed, "Sinful?"

"Yup," I said, and I was off and running.  It truly is sinful not to take time off in order to rest.  The best way to understand this is by changing the word from "vacation" to "sabbath time."  Sabbath time, coming from the Sabbath that God took on the seventh day after creation and enshrined in the fourth commandment, means time to rest.

Haven't you ever wondered why the command to rest would be stuck among all those "Thou shalt nots?"  How about because we need it.  We human beings don't know when to stop -- or to let our subordinates stop.  We burn out without rest, both physically and mentally.  We die.

For employers who don't care about their employees as people, this isn't a problem.  Just replace them with others who are all too willing to work themselves into an early grave for a meal.  But for those who care about their brothers and sisters -- and about themselves -- taking time off is crucial.  We regenerate our bodies and our souls.  Life regains meaning.

For clergy, there is an added dimension to vacation.  As one of my professors in seminary told our class, we need to go away so that we can realize the church doesn't really need us to survive.  "Go away, come back a couple of weeks later," he'd say, "and you'll be surprised to find that the church is still standing!  It does not depend on you being there every minute.  So get over your false sense of importance."

Isn't that true for a lot of us, too?  We think things won't work if we're not there at every step.  That's simply not true.  None of us is indispensable -- and time to rest will help us appreciate how freeing that can be.  We come back to work not only refreshed and rested but with a certain sense of burden lifted from our shoulders.  The world does not depend on me being there all the time.

A psychologist once said how he took the entire month of August off every year.  When questioned whether he didn't feel guilty about leaving his clients in the lurch if they had an emergency, he said that none had ever suffered unduly -- but that they would receive inferior treatment the other eleven months if he did not get away from work for a time.

So -- rest.  Vacation.  So few people take actual Sabbath time during the rest of the year -- they fill up their days off with unessential tasks or quick weekend trips that tend to stress them out more than refresh.  Why not get a little bit of your soul back by getting away.

Only, don't fill it up with more frenetic activity.  Spend at least one or two days doing nothing at all.  I know it's hard, but you can do it.