How to Rest Without Going Away
A holiday abroad might not be advisable this summer, and even a UK break may not be possible either. So how can we get good rest when staying home?
Last summer I had an operation and was told to recuperate for 4 to 6 weeks from mid-July. Going away was possible, but not advisable. In effect, I experienced the COVID-19 lockdown a year early.
In God’s providence, it has helped me think about the many pastors who can't get a summer holiday this year as local coronavirus lockdowns continue. Travel abroad may not be easy, advisable or affordable. A break in the UK may not be possible either, especially if you are concerned about underlying health issues and worried about contracting COVID-19 in holiday situations where more people are mixing.
The first thing is to counter the thinking, “I will be okay without a break this year.”
Jesus knew when he and his disciples needed one – Mark 6:30-32. After particularly intense periods of ministry, he knew that they, and you, will need rest. Many ministers go several months without a proper physical, mental, and spiritual break from demanding routines.
Don’t just soldier on through a long summer as if you are an exception to the rule that we all need rest.
Secondly, we must learn not to feel guilty when we do take rest. Though rest is a multi-faceted concept, taking various kinds of rest shouldn't induce a sense of: “I shouldn't be doing this.”
Taking rest is not a sign of moral failure or a lack of spiritual zeal. Neither should it feel embarrassing or shameful if people see you at rest even when they are at work. Pastors and their families live under the public gaze. Holidays can solve some of this dilemma, but I found it more difficult resting for a few weeks at home.
If that’s true for you, here are some thoughts about making sure you have a more intentional ‘holiday at home’ this year.
Taking Rest at Home
So, how should we take rest if we cannot get away?
The saying, ‘Brothers, we are not professionals’ is true. But, ‘brothers, we are human’ is true too. When we are resting, we need to learn not to be in ‘pastor mode’ if we see people from our church. Exceptions occur, but they have to be really exceptional (see Mark 6:33ff). Given we have a caring heart, our tendency will be to spot needs, threats and ministry opportunities whenever we see (or don't see) people. But good rest comes from embracing our humanity.
Our work is a calling not just a job, but we need to model what wholeness and holiness look like by caring for both our bodies and our minds by good resting as well as good working.
Zack Eswine’s super book on this helped me and our staff team a great deal on this issue.1 To recognise that I am limited in space and time (I can only be in one place at once); limited in knowledge (how little I know about others compared to the Lord – 1 Corinthians 2:11), and limited in energy (which means I cannot fix everything) is such a freeing realisation.
As I gladly embrace my creatureliness and let God be God, Saviour and Lord of his flock, I can be released from both the heavy burden of unattainable expectations (mine, and the congregation’s) and then can serve God more effectively.
This attitude to work will shape my attitude to rest, too. It is good for me to eat healthily, exercise regularly and sleep properly. A good extended rest can help re-establish better patterns in these areas of our well-being if they have got out of kilter.
Now let's look at some of the practical realities.
I work from home; I really like that. But it means I only have to walk up a flight of stairs to be in my place of work. Even when I am on holiday at home, the very fact that my study is in my home means I have a constant mental reminder of all the work that needs to be done.
But it can be harder than that. Your house, like mine, is a ministry home where we welcome people, offer hospitality, and provide a listening ear and a sensitive heart to others. To be in that space and not default to it feeling like work, was hard for me and may be difficult for you. You have to intentionally say to yourself, “This is our home and we are on holiday.”
To help myself in this I had a media holiday too – I didn't check emails or my smartphone. I turned the computer off and kept out of the study – nearly all the time. A bit extreme? But you know that once you start ‘just catching up’, emails and messages will do their very best to keep playing on your mind.
I found that I needed to get out – and that meant walks for me, as I couldn't run or cycle after my operation. But walks were lovely, especially with my spouse or other family members. Getting out every day is great. I did watch a bit of telly – I caught up on London 2012 from a box-set of DVDs I've never watched. I do love watching sport!
But I went on a telly holiday most of the time too – the experts say it is not as relaxing as we think it is. That was not too difficult for me as I don't watch much anyway; I don’t know if you would find it easier or harder than I?
I tried to do something a bit more creative. So, I reviewed my collection of military figures – well, I played toy soldiers with my grandkids using Nerf guns. It was great fun. What a way to bond with your Grandad when your six-year-old gets a headshot in claiming he was aiming at a target near you!
I painted. Nothing glamorous, mind you. Please don’t think Cezanne or Monet! Instead, I had the time to do all the white doors and skirting boards in the house (all 36 sides got the full gloss treatment) while I enjoyed Classic FM. At the end of each day I had something to look on, and the house was so much, well, whiter. The doors were gleaming brilliantly, and I found my mind and heart were slowing down.
Give yourself some nice treats. I may be a simple soul, but I love ice cream and don't normally buy the fancy stuff – so I treated myself. What else do you do on holiday if you don’t enjoy lovely ice cream in the summer?
In addition, what would signal to your spouse that you are on holiday together? Would you cook regularly for her what she loves? Could you do a day trip somewhere nice?
Recently, Jenny and I took our first trip out of Bedford in four months as we took a day trip to North Norfolk. We put bikes on the back rack and then cycled on the flat coast road from Hunstanton up to Brancaster at a leisurely pace. We sat on the beach until late, before a return journey in the beautiful countryside that evening. So they were my practical choices for a holiday at home.
What would your equivalents be if you had two (better if it were three) weeks at home in the summer? Perhaps you could barbecue with friends or enjoy watching the cricket? Or maybe you could build a patio, then sit on the patio!
Or maybe a friend could lend you a house for a day or two even if you can't get away for a longer break? That can be very relaxing too. If you are reading this, maybe you could think of offering your house if you are away from it – even if it were just an overnight it would be a nice break for someone.
“But what about church?” I hear you say.
Bizarrely, COVID-19 has made it easier to get a speaker during the summer months. Just ask if you can use someone else's YouTube clips. You can always pre-record an intro and then you and others can be edified. I can't think of anyone who would say, “No I don't want you to use what our church has put on YouTube.” After all it's already out there! If your church is meeting under COVID-secure conditions, you could still play a video of another preacher and get someone else to lead so that you can attend and worship, and not slip into ‘I'm here to work’ mode. Or use the opportunity to visit another local church.
Finally, it’s really important to note that our holiday is not a holiday from God. Normal rhythms of Bible reading and prayer are important to maintain. But please don't overwork your conscience with thinking, “I ought to spend longer in prayer than usual as I am free from other duties.”
The Lord knows your needs, you can commit them all to him, and rest in his grace.
May you find refreshment during this summer with your loved ones, and rejoice in being an amazingly made creature in a wonderful creation where he has given us all things richly to enjoy (see 1 Tim 4:4; 6:17b).
1 Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus: life and ministry as a human being (Crossway, 2012). “This is one of the finest books on being a pastor written in this generation” Jerram Barrs’ commendation.