Return from Vacation

While we were in Japan we had dinner with our exchange daughter. Masami lived with our family for a full year as part of a sister cities exchange. We had the opportunity to do a lot of things with her because of the full year visit. Among the adventures we pursued was a family vacation. In those days we had a pop-up camper that we pulled behind our car. With three teenagers in our family, our 5 passenger car was full. We had a cargo pod and a canoe on the roof and our little camper behind. We visited family in Montana. We camped at Craters of the Moon National Monument, with five of us in that little tent camper. We visited the church we had served in Boise and attended the wedding of one of the young people we had known during our pastorate there. We went to Portland, Oregon and visited family, and drove up the coast to Seattle and onto Whidbey Island where we camped. We went up the Space Needle and drove back to Rapid City across Montana.

As we sat at dinner in a restaurant in Ueno, Japan, we recalled that trip. We noted that our trip to Japan came as part of a driving trip to Mount Vernon, Washington, very near to the places we had visited with her when she was in the United States. We asked her about her vacation plans. She excitedly reported that she and her husband were going to a small Island in the Okinawa Prefecture in japan in September. We asked her what they planned to do on their vacation and she said, “Nothing. There isn’t anything to do on the island.” Their plan is to go to the island and simply relax.

In general, most Japanese people view vacations differently than we do. I suspect that we view vacations a bit differently from other Americans. Pastors generally have a bit more vacation time than the general population. The rationale for this is that because we work every vacation and generally never get two days off in a row during our regular work cycle, a longer vacation gives more time for renewal and refocusing. As a result, we have been able to go a bit farther and do a bit more on vacations than some of our peers who have other careers. This is enhanced by the fact that Susan and I have always worked for the same congregation, so our vacations can be coordinated with a minimum of negotiation. The churches we have served have understood our need for vacation and we have combined rest and relaxation with some pretty high mileage adventures over the years.

I used to wrestle a bit with vacation guilt. I would apologize for my need for vacations and would be hesitant to report much about vacations to the people at home. Over the years, I’ve learned to quit apologizing for the time we take away from the congregations we serve. I’ve discovered that taking the time away helps to give us an important perspective that is critical to the work that we do. We are simply better pastors because we have taken time away.

There is, however, the reality that the work of the church needs to be accomplished and it goes on when we are gone. A great deal of work is done in preparation for and follow up after a vacation. I wrote the liturgies and prepared the first drafts of all of the worship bulletins for the time we would be gone before I left on this most recent trip. I return to a significant amount of messages and requests and things that must be done. I spent more than an hour yesterday just dealing with things that had piled up during my absence.

The break in the rhythm has the positive effect of giving us an opportunity to reexamine priorities and shift schedules. The work of a pastor is much bigger than any one person. I am constantly leaving the office in the evening knowing that there are undone tasks. There are always more visits that could be made, more planning and study that could be done, more administrative tasks that could be accomplished. Part of being a pastor is learning to live with the reality that we are not able to do all that we can imagine. A vacation and taking time away from the routine gives the option of establishing new routines and new priorities for our work.

This year will be a process of shifting priorities and devising other ways to accomplish tasks. As we prepare for the end of our call to this particular congregation, we are focusing on developing ways for the ministries to continue without our active participation. The church will, of course, hire a new minister to assume leadership and a new minister will do things in a new way. Still, there are many tasks associated with the church that I have been doing for so long that we don’t think of them much except when they are not done. Coming back from the vacation, I’m taking special notes of the things that didn’t happen in my absence to add them to the list of places where we need to develop new leadership in the church. The transition in leadership will reach beyond the office of the pastor. It will affect the roles of volunteers and others in the life of the church.

So we take the plunge back into the work life of the congregation seriously. I am so eager for worship today. It is one thing that I really miss when I travel. It isn’t that I don’t worship when I am on vacation, but rather the churches we visit are not our home. Today I worship in the congregation I have grown to love over a long time. I will see adults whom I baptized as babies and couples whose marriages I attended with their families. I will visit with elders whom I’ve known for a quarter of a century. It is good to be home. It is good to be back at work.

I pray that I can keep the freshness and eagerness of this day all year long!

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!