The Discipline of Rest
This past week, my wife and I took our annual spring trip away – just the two of us. We’ve been fleeing the pressures of life and ministry every spring for the last 10+ years. This year the destination was Santa Fe. Just a “short” 11 hour drive from our home in Northwest Arkansas. We spent four days hiking the wonderful trail system around Santa Fe. Atalaya Mountain kicked our collective rear ends. Bandalier we’ve been to in the past, but this year we trekked the upper falls trail – spectacular. We even tried our hand at some mountain biking for the first time. In the past, we’ve spent time at a dude ranch in Colorado, the high desert of Moab, Utah, the beaches of the Florida panhandle, and one year we even hit the NASCAR races at Talladega!
But the destination is not what’s important. It’s the simple act of getting away with my spouse.
Ministry has it’s own particular stress points. I’ve seen too many of my brothers in ministry fall out because they lost their family. They lost because they committed adultery. They lost because they could not balance ministry and family. They lost because their kids grew up to hate the church. They lost because they did not take care of themselves and they hit a wall of burnout. Loss of ministry can come in many forms.
While not claiming perfection, I’ve been very intentional about taking care of my family while taking care of my ministry. I have an operating principle that guides me in this…
If you lose you family, you lose your ministry. Period.
I’ve taught this for years to young pastors and those aspiring to ministry. Yes, it is true. If you don’t have your family, then you don’t have your ministry. In order to practice this in my own marriage and family, I’ve made the following a priority…
- “My kids come before ministry.” Here’s what this means: If I have to choose between a game or even a practice that my son/daughter is participating in and a deacon’s meeting, I choose my kid. My ministry will endure beyond the season I raise my kids, but my kids will grow up and eventually leave (hopefully). I’ve never known a pastor who wished he spent less time with his kids.
- “I take my day off.” It sounds simple but it has not always been that simple. Early in my ministry I worked for pastors who never took a day off. They said it was fine for the rest of the staff to take their day off, but I noticed quickly that my peers followed the example of the pastor. So the pressure to just work and never take a Sabbath was real. Friday is my day off right now in my life. And I take my day off. Period. My wife counts on it and we plan our day around each other. I tell people that on Friday, “Julie owns me!”
- “My wife and I indulge in a spring fling.” As mentioned above, we take 4-6 days every spring just to get away. No kids. Just us. It’s marriage-building time. Wherever we may end up, it’s about living life together and adding memories to our life-vault. Let me say that this week away never “just happens.” It has to be intentionally planned for. Put on the calendar, usually 6 or more months out. If it’s not calendared it won’t happen.
- “Family vacation is a staple.” Every year, we load up the ol’ family vehicle, pack more stuff than will fit (thus the car-topper), pile in, and hit the road. This is the family version of the spring fling mentioned in #3, except the kids come along. It’s “our time.” Family time. After 23 years of marriage, we have hundreds of pics of family vacations, chronicling our lives together.
A couple of notes regarding the above. As much as possible, I endeavor to NOT check my email on my day off, and our get-aways. This is hard for me. I have to really work to unplug and get away from the digital tether. But it is SO important that this happens, especially on family and spousal getaways…or it’s not a getaway. Nothing is worse than my kids seeing Daddy consumed with church issues while trying to hang out on a beach.
And finally, when it is not my day off or I am not away on a family outing…I work as hard as I can.
This needs to me said. There can be a lot of laziness in ministry. As easily as it is to slip into workaholic mode in ministry, it is just as easy to swing to the other end of the spectrum and for a guy to use his family as an excuse to not work hard or consistently. So, I work when it’s time to work. And when it’s time to be off, I am off. This is what is called balance. And it is critical in the life of a pastor. And for that matter, all of us!