It is amazing what a little vacation time will do for a person. I had not had time away since last December so I was ready for some vacation time. Pastors live a pretty busy life as it is but then add in Lent and Easter and four funerals and a wedding or two and it can be pretty draining. So, with Easter in the near past, my wife and I set out on a driving trip to the western US. We began in the rain in Austin, giving our congregation reason to rejoice (not because we were leaving town, I hope, but because of the drought we have been suffering through for a long time), driving through rain that was so heavy that we had to slow our car down considerably in Austin. We took the route west that took us through Lampasas, Brownwood, Abilene, Sweetwater, Lubbock, and then to Amarillo, stopping to spend the night there. After a delicious dinner, a good night's sleep, and a filling breakfast, we set out the next morning for Albuquerque and a wonderful B&B where we would stay three nights. The great plains west of Amarillo gave way to open country with little on it but shrub brush and an occasional cow or two. The vast open prairie surrounded us and I gave a big sigh as we drove for a few hours toward our destination for the day. I could feel the tension releasing and the anxiety of daily living giving way to pleasant conversation.
We reached Albuquerque before noon so we decided to begin the tourism in earnest with a visit to the Sandia Tram that takes you from ground level to the top of Sandia Peak. It is billed as the longest tram in the world with its final span being over two miles. The guide told us that only the tram in Chamonix, France was longer or higher in its span and that one had a glass bottom so that you could see the ground below your feet as you swooped over the countryside. Luckily, ours had a normal bottom so you could only see your feet and those of the other passengers. We reached the top where we looked across the plains between Sandia Peak and the mountains to the west where Albuquerque sits. Again, I gave a huge sigh and gazed across that beautiful scenery below, thankful for the beauty of the earth and the coolness of the breeze across my face.
We had a great picnic lunch in a desert-like park not too far from the tram and then drove to our B&B to begin our stay for three nights there. This was our second time to stay at this one and the innkeepers greeted us like we were old friends. Our stay there was wonderful with bountiful breakfasts provided each day to get our day started as we explored Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Then we drove north to Glen Haven, Colorado, just outside of Estes Park, where we stayed for three nights in a housekeeping cabin, spending time doing short hikes, looking around, shopping, and cooking for ourselves. We visited with our son and then began the two day drive home, feeling much more relaxed then when we had left a week before.
I am always puzzled by people who say they never go anywhere for vacation. I always tell my congregation that I am a much better pastor when I return from vacation than when I left for it. I need time away now and then to recharge my spiritual and emotional batteries. I think it was Jesus who told his disciples to "come away to a quiet place" for a while. He knew the need for spiritual renewal and that it sometimes can only come by taking a break from the routine and life as we know it regularly. I truly need time away, away from the schedule I keep and the commits I have taken on as a pastor. I have to take a break now and then or I will not be able to function as I should. I know some people who take a week's vacation and then will just stay home for that week. They are much better at that than I am. The phone continues to ring and people continue to have demands on my time when I am at home. I consider myself on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week so my congregation can call on me anytime and I will be there for them. That is the life of a pastor. So, when I go on vacation, I leave all that behind and I am physically and emotionally transported to another time and place.
The sighs I mentioned happen to me often when I am away. It is as if something in my spirit gives a big sigh of relief and I can actually feel the stress leaving my body. I can begin to really relax and be the silly self that I usually am when I am free from worry. We all need to provide for ourselves time away and to take that time away regularly so we can be the people we know that we need to be when we are in ministry to others. We are all called upon to serve others continually. We get that fresh start we need and renewed energy by taking time for ourselves regularly.