Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vacation's over...

Everyone surely experiences "end of vacation" anxiety, don't they? You know, that "blue" state that sets in when your time away goes away and the stacks of papers on your desk haunt anew? That's what I'm talking about in this blog post, so if that never happens to you, just go away.

Now, I really love my job. I really LOVE my job. Actually, being a pastor is a special calling that doesn't seem to fit into the "job" category. While we believe that ALL vocations are callings (from the Latin, vocatio, meaning "a call"), no one should take on the role of being clergy without a specific "call" story or faith experience leading to pursuing this unique "job." We're on call 24/7, carry the burdens of our parishioners around in our hearts right alongside those of our own kin, and "should be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment's notice," according to a popular saying among pastors. Being a clergyperson is not for the faint of heart--or spirit. That being said, we all need some time to reflect, recharge, and remind our spouses we're still on the planet with them. Hence, vacations, usually in the "less active" weeks of Summer. In most churches--and especially in larger ones like St. Paul's--September through mid-June is just GO, GO, GO. (Of course, at St. Paul's, Summer just means you can drop it into second gear, but not pull over and park. And some of our staff--Children and Youth Ministries Directors, for example--have major events to coordinate in the Summer, too!) But still, Summer is when many pastors "steal away" for a respite.

By the way, I've tried just about every kind of vacation experience one can imagine. When our children were young, the Sterlings bought a tent camper and spent time with friends camping at the ocean. Between the sun, the mosquitos, and the wild horses jostling the camper in the middle of the night, that was about as restful as a hurricane. Oh, we even went through one of those on a vacation once--I don't recommend it. We've "done States" using AAA guides, flown to faraway places, and even stayed home for a few days of local R & R. I wish I could tell you that we found that miraculous blend of experiences making for the perfect vacation, but it would be a lie. Honestly, I still enjoy most those vacations where I can learn about things to be the most enjoyable. Art galleries, museums, science centers, historic venues--these are the fodder for a great vacation, in my book! I even like the occasional zoo, but when you've seen one Llama, you've seen 'em all. Pressed to answer the question, "But what has been your favorite vacation?", I would say the two times we have spend several days at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Yeah, that would be my answer. My wife wants me to promise that we will spend the first Christmas after I retire in Williamsburg.

Back to the anxiety issue...when pleasant, restful experiences like a good vacation end, we do experience a bit of a letdown, typically. (Like many of you, this is amplified for us because part of our vacation is almost always spent with our grandchildren, and leaving those two precious little ones behind is hard!) Since I am writing this on my first full day back in the office, I thought I might suggest a few ways to combat this post-vacation malaise. Here are a few I came up with:

1. Make a list of all of the things about your vocation that really jazz you up. On your first week back, spend some time doing a couple of those particularly enjoyable tasks (I'm writing this blog post, and I like to write).

2. Pick one important task that you have been putting off, and tackle it with the force of a blitzing linebacker (I hope to clean up my desk, sort out the trash from the "keepers," and file some of this stuff--even Jack Lambert would have shied away if he saw this desk).

3. Get in touch with your soul! Take some extra time the week after vacation to meditate, pray, and read scripture. Here's a good thought to guide us from Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

4. Review any photos you took on your vacation and talk about the memories created with those who accompanied you. Remembering is a way of reliving a positive experience.

5. Start planning next year's vacation!

Here is another thought. My wife, the registered, licensed dietitian, tells me that humans would be much healthier if we would eat five or six small meals throughout the day rather than one, two, or three larger ones (or, in some of our cases, one small breakfast and then one LARGE dinner!). The same may be true of vacation time. Maybe we would do better to take two or three days here and there, if possible, throughout the year, rather than two or three weeks at one time? I know, some "experts" say that you should take at least two weeks because it takes a full week to "wind down." These people don't understand "Type A" personalities, do they? We never wind down, and usually don't even run down--we just make everybody else tired. So, vacation time spread judiciously throughout the year might be a good thing to consider...hmmmm...

I will say this: If ending your vacation and returning to work causes you such anxiety or depression that you fear even taking vacation, then maybe you should pray about finding a different job? Or maybe at least getting some counseling about whatever pathology is causing such a heightened state of discomfort? One of the greatest promises we have from God is Jesus' statement, Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Even Jesus took brief "vacations" from his work--and the constant yammering of the disciples--to get in touch with his inner dialogue through prayer and meditation. So, even in the Divine, we have a model. But why not make coming back from vacation just as planned and anticipated as was the respite time itself? Think about it, Beloved. Shalom!

What's Next?

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