I Needed A Break

Written by: Andrew Ware
April 26, 2023

Easter is busy for pastors…glad I had already planned a vacation

I thought I had been doing so well…

I thought I had been doing so well in caring for myself and creating an environment that could help get me to and through the celebration of Easter. For those of you not familiar with the pastoral side of Easter it is very emotionally draining. You have the role of walking your congregation through the events of Holy Week (Jesus’ final days and ultimate death) and then having the energy to put on a grand celebration of the resurrection (one of the key tenets of the Christian Faith). 

Before Holy Week I went on a clergy self-care retreat that helped us process our own emotions of Holy Week as we journeyed through the events, and I came away from that feeling refreshed and ready to go through my pastoral responsibilities for the week. However, even by Tuesday I was just tired and having trouble functioning. Many of my runs felt difficult, and I couldn’t do them. My body and mind were revolting and suddenly my typical manners of self-care were not working.

You Can’t Catch Up

Now, I believe that self-care, like sleep, is something that needs to be embedded in everyday living, because it is not something we can afford to get behind on. We cannot make up for self-care not practiced. However, my usual practices of self-care were not effective in bringing me to my basic state of feeling cared for. I knew I needed something more…

A BREAK

Luckily I had already planned for vacation the week after Easter (as is my regular practice), but I had the added benefit that I would be able to travel for Spring Break with my family. Last year my kid’s spring break was during holy week, and so they went and spent time with extended family while I worked during holy week. Then my vacation was spent as a stay-cation (hanging around the house and doing a little bit of cleaning…emphasis on a little bit). This year we were taking a family vacation and we were excited.

So, I just tried to hold on, as I didn’t know what else I could have done at the moment. Looking back, this was not the healthiest way to handle it, but sometimes we get caught up in this state.

However, what I want to hone in on, was my continued practicing of regular practices. I did not forsake the things that grounded me.

  • I found it more difficult to run, so I walked.

  • Meditation was filled with a random collection of thoughts and deadlines, but I leaned in and allowed them to pass through as I focused.

  • I went to therapy, even though it would take over an hour out of my prep time.

  • I took the time to spend with my family and friends and escape the responsibilities of work life. 

I kept doing these embedded practices because I knew if I didn’t it could be far worse for my mental state approaching Easter.

I fear that many of us get in these super busy modes and the first things to go are our own self-care practices that we have made a part of our lives. 

“Oh I am really busy I don’t have time to spend with my family/friends”

“I just can’t spare the mental effort to do something that brings me joy”

Self-care practices and rituals help to keep us grounded.

While I was tired, and knew I desperately needed a break to reset, it is ok to admit that. However, it is not ok to forsake everything else in order to get yourself there.

While everyone else was excited for 10:30 am Easter Sunday (that was the time of our worship service), I was excited for Noon on Easter Sunday (my mental beginning of vacation). It felt awful to express, but it was needed. I was in a space where I needed a vacation, I needed time away, and had I not planned it I might have gotten myself dangerously close to a period of burnout. 

This is to encourage those extended times away from a vocation or other various areas of our lives that often require us to give of ourselves. Yes, the ministry is filling, but it also requires a lot of me. I love the church, but being a pastor has skewed my relationship with the church, and I need breaks from “the church.” I need to go away and spend a week with my family in the mountains (I LOVE THE MOUNTAINS…which is odd because I grew up at the beach).

We continue to practice those self-care rituals we have established as a way to stay grounded in the interim. We cannot forsake those in the time, because then, even with a week (maybe two in some cases) that may not even be enough for us to feel revitalized.

A Full Life of Self-Care

We create these spaces and boundaries as a multi-layered understanding. It is more than one thing that goes into our self-care. It extends into every facet of our lives. It is up to us to define when and where the extended times can be mixed in with regular times. My vacation schedule is pretty standard from year-to-year. As full-time pastors, we are afforded 4 weeks of vacation a year and one week of  “renewal leave.” I will not get into the semantics of the difference between the two right now, but I know from year-to-year that I will take off the week after Christmas, the week after Easter, and two weeks in the summer. School and work schedules have made it easiest to take this time. My renewal leave is usually a bit more broken down, but I will take most of it during the week of Thanksgiving.

This seems odd, but for a person who needs this sort of accountability of scheduling my vacations early (just the days usually the activities are not as well planned), it helps me know where my big breaks are. It reiterates the importance of keeping my practices a part of my daily rituals. 

I am not here to argue if 4 weeks is enough vacation or not…or even whether you may think it is too much. However, it is acknowledging that the day-to-day can only take us so far. There will be a busy season where the day-to-day is not enough and we need more. Sometimes we know the busyness is coming and we can be tactical in planning when to take these extended breaks. Not to the extent of forgetting to practice the rest of our rituals to keep us grounded though.

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This is a lesson we cannot forget.

I had the best vacation, and though we had a busy schedule of going to Dollywood, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, it was a different kind of busy. It filled my soul with joy, and I am glad I had enough mental energy to not just enjoy it, but to return ready (and in a good mental space) to continue my work of ministry.

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