You work hard! The demands of ministry can be, well… demanding. Sunday comes every 7 days. Meanwhile, time in the office is slammed with meetings and the distractions brought on by an endless stream of people at your door needing your attention. While your task list grows, you find the time to get things done more and more elusive. And this is before you’ve even gotten to the people you’re supposed to be serving! There are the hospital visits to make, phone calls to place, and lunch with the latest person to join your ministry team… the list goes on.
Don’t get me wrong. We have one of the greatest jobs on the planet! Talk about important work– it doesn’t get any more important than helping people grow in their relationship with God. We get to help them know what it is to love God, love the people around them, and allow the love of God to work through them to change the world! But, it can be difficult work. The hours can be long, and the demands are high.
So, how do we make the most of times when we’re able to get away for some well-earned vacation? What are some “best-practices” that can help us renew and recharge our batteries?
I’m no expert, but I have wrestled with these questions for myself and my family over the years. As a result, here are some things that have helped me make best use of those precious vacation days. Maybe they’ll provide some ideas for you.
5 Ways to Make the Most of Time Away:
- Take as many days of vacation at one time as possible.
A very wise senior pastor once encouraged his staff (of which I was a part) to take at least 2 weeks of vacation at a time. While I found this a hard practice at first, I’ve been heeding that advice for the last 15 years. In fact, I now take almost ALL of my vacation in one block of time. Why?
After mustering the energy to pack, load the car, drive (or fly) to my desired location, unload and settle in, I finally have time to unwind. Except it takes me a few days to detox and really begin to relax. Conversely, as the end of vacation grows close, I find myself anticipating the return trip and gearing up to go home. In this scenario, a week just isn’t enough. By the time I finally begin to relax and really enjoy quality time with my family, we’re getting ready to wrap vacation up!
I’ve found that the longer I can extend my vacation time, the more days I get to spend in the “relaxation zone” before going home. Over the past several years, I’ve taken about 3 consecutive weeks away every summer. The great thing about this is that, by the end, I’m actually beginning to look forward to getting home and feel ready to tackle the demands of ministry again.
Maybe 3 weeks of vacation is unattainable for you. But, take as many consecutive days as you possible can. Once you’re able to practice this, you’ll find that you return home more rested and refreshed for those you lead.
- Don’t overschedule your time.
I know that the temptation is to “make the most” of time away and to cram as much into a short period of time as possible. But, doing so can actually create stress rather than relieve it. I have found that the best vacations have been those where we’ve stuck to one location, aimed to do only a few things each day, and haven’t fretted when we didn’t stick to the schedule.
Go with the flow! No one is making demands of your time. Do whatever you feel like and don’t be afraid to flex your plans. Be attentive to what your body is telling you. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Sleep when you need to sleep (naps are okay) and wake up when your body is ready to wake up.
- Make time for “life-giving” activities.
Let face it, even in jobs that we love, there are things that energize us… and there are things that drain energy from us. Most of us have to find balance between those things in our work life. Vacation is an opportunity to fill our days with those things that rejuvenate and revitalize us. If you don’t know what these things are for you, spend some time contemplating it and be sure to build in time for them while you’re away.
- Nurture your relationships.
Relish this unstructured time with family and friends. These are rare occasions to give consistent and undivided attention to those who mean the most to you. Don’t waste it!
We’ve always cherished our family time while on vacation. It has afforded us opportunities to reconnect without the usual distractions of work and life at home. Over the last several years, however, we’ve also enjoyed vacationing with close friends with whom we’ve shared a lot of life. While we no longer live in the same city as our friends, these relationships are “life-giving” to us, and sharing experiences with them refreshes our souls. Even in this, we don’t feel pressure to spend every waking moment with our friends. We’re sure to keep some family time as sacred!
The point is… at the end of your life, what will have mattered most are the relationships you’ve fostered and the investments you’ve made into the people closest to you. Use time away as an opportunity to savor those connections that God has blessed you with.
- Spend time nurturing your most important relationship.
Nothing will ever be as “life-giving” to you as your relationship with God. Don’t neglect this while on vacation. Spend time in the scriptures and in prayer. Enjoy His creation and the beauty He’s placed around you. Look for Him in your day-to-day activities. If you do, you’ll likely find that you can see and hear Him more clearly as you unwind from the normal demands of life. And, you may also find Him giving you a fresh vision for the ministry to which He’s called you. Embrace it and go home ready to follow His lead with renewed passion!
Remember, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is withdraw. Over and over in the Gospels, we’re told that Jesus withdrew to pray, be still, and hear from His Father. If Jesus needed this, how much more do we need it?
If you’ve ever returned from your time away feeling like you “need a vacation from your vacation,” give some of these things a try. It may well be one of the best choices you’ve made all year!