It is summer vacation season, and for many of us, vacationing is hard work. We scramble to get things lined up for our absence, keep an eye on the cell phone or e-mail during the vacation, and then feel like we are playing catch-up for a week or more once we return…leaving us pondering: Was that even worth it?
Human tendencies aside, we at the Clergy Health Initiative do think vacation is worth it, and research backs us up. But it’s not all about you and your health: your willingness to spend time away from the church may also have positive impacts on your church community, as Henri Nouwen shares in this beautiful passage:
“When you get exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, or run down, your body is saying that you are doing things that are none of your business. God does not require of you what is beyond your ability, what leads you away from God, or what makes you depressed or sad. God wants you to live for others and to live that presence well. Doing so might include suffering, fatigue, and even moments of great physical or emotional pain, but none of this must ever pull you away from your deepest self and God.
Your way of being present to your community may require times of absence, prayer, writing, or solitude. These too are times for your community. They allow you to be deeply present to your people and speak words that come from God in you. When it is part of our vocation to offer your people a vision that will nurture them and allow them to keep moving forward, it is crucial that you give yourself the time and space to let that vision mature in you and become an integral part of your being.
Your community needs you, but maybe not as a constant presence. Your community might need you as a presence that offers courage and spiritual food for the journey, a presence that creates the safe ground in which others can grow and develop, a presence that belongs to the matrix of the community. But your community also needs your creative absence.
You might need certain things that the community cannot provide. For these you may have to go elsewhere from time to time. This does not mean that you are selfish, abnormal, or unfit for community life. It means that your way of being present to your people necessitates personal nurturing of a special kind. Do not be afraid to ask for these things. Doing so allows you to be faithful to your vocation and to feel safe. It is a service to those for whom you want to be a source of hope and a life-giving presence.”
— Claim Your Unique Presence in Your Community,
p. 67-9 of The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen
I hope you will delight in your vacation and that it will serve to strengthen your ministry.
— Catherine Wilson
(Image: Jim Dollar)