I’m Back! Vacation as a Monastic Practice

I’m back. RaeAnn, Max and I went away to Canada for some vacation. We had a restful time – an enjoyable time. For me, it takes two weeks away from everything to get a rest. We almost lost the second week when our cottage got canceled because the owner didn’t receive our check in the mail. But whew … we found another cabin through some contacts we made (uh Rae Ann made). And so I feel recuperated.

In our society, vacations sometimes become an end instead of a means, a reward for me because of all my hard work, instead of a discipline which shapes us for further mission. Vacations in our society, strangely can become a status symbol, a luxury item, something to actually be talked about and used to help with our identity – “I just returned from a vacation to Cancun, where did you go this year?” In our society, it is like there are expectations placed on vacations to somehow be exciting, push the level of danger, adventure … vacation becomes an “experience” sold to us by travel companies. The emotional investment in these kind of vacations scares me. In our society we spend fortunes on vacations. In our society we take vacations because “I deserve it.” “I earned this vacation” as if the reason I worked all year was to take this exotic vacation. These kind of vacations simply don’t interest me. They exhaust me. They are a set up for disappointment. I don’t recommend vacations like this.

Instead, I recommend going away to a familiar place far enough away so that the routine and e-mails are broken, yet familiar enough that no stress or time need be spent planning what to do, where to go, or how to eat. I recommend doing simple things like spending time on a beach, reading books, eating together around a barbecue. I recommend doing familiar traditions so as to slow oneself down, get some silence and introspection time … in other words, see vacation as a monastic practice. Plan for times with God, pray the hours, have a lot of silence by a beach. Pastors go at things hard for a long season. So much of our time, so many people need a piece of us. I don’t need more activity, or the stress of trying to create activity. I need getting away from the phones, schedules, e-mails.

Now I realize that many people see this as a terrible vacation. There are always two kinds of vacation people. Vacation people like me, and vacation people who view vacations as always about “doing novel things.” The latter simply won’t understand the challenge to “see vacation as a monastic practice.”

My body flipped this past year as I was diagnosed with early diabetes. Much of this, including my many symptoms, was due to stress, and of course poor eating and exercise which comes from stress. I’ve been on the mend and doing well. But the stress will come. If you live like me, and you’re a pastor, professor, and do other jobs as well to pay the bills, you can’t entirel;y avoid stress. Modern life surrounds us and incorporates us into its systems. And we simply can’t sustain life even as a pastor, without good rest, quiet and restorsation. It all demands we pull back, recupe and get in touch with our selves, the calling of God in mission, and our bodies. So pastors, TAKE A VACATION! Thanks to my church and all the men and women leaders at Life on the Vine for giving me and my family a vacation!

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