Like many pastors, I have a difficult time taking time off and truly disconnecting. I take all of my vacation time each year, but not fully. I still check my church email account and maintain contact. It’s not because I don’t want a break or need a break. It’s hard for me because I truly love the people in my church. I enjoy serving alongside them. But Sabbath isn’t a suggestion, it is a commandment.
And so this summer I did one of things I love most in life: I traveled. I spent four weeks traveling all over Europe. Even writing those words makes me shake my head in disbelief. I got to spend four weeks traveling Europe! I know that this vacation was an amazing gift, a luxury that far too many can’t afford to take.
The thing is, vacations are good for you. I was running on empty before I left. I was stressed and tired and overworked. I had been averaging a funeral a week at the church and was experiencing my own grief over the loss of my father. I felt guilty preparing to leave behind my church, my family and my responsibilities for a month – and yet I knew just how deeply my body and soul needed this break.
Taking a Sabbath is a biblical mandate, a discipline that God has given us for our spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health. So I got on an airplane with my best friend, deleted my church email app and turned off my phone. And for the first time since becoming a pastor, I truly disconnected. I woke up each day and delighted in walking the streets of beautiful cities, trying new foods and truly being present in the moment.
I practiced gratitude – intentionally taking moments to stop and thank God for this opportunity, for the gift of being alive. I allowed emotions I had been suppressing to surface. I lit candles for my dad in churches that we visited, I shared memories of him with friends and I told him about the amazing cities I was seeing. I slowed down and paid attention. I lingered over meals, I stared in wonder at art masterpieces and I lost myself as I gazed out the windows of trains.
Sabbath is important. It’s so tempting to push through, to work harder and to keep trying to accomplish more. I love my vocation and the church I serve, but I am a better pastor because I took this vacation. And my church needed me to take a vacation, too. While I was gone, ruling elders got the opportunity to share their gifts leading worship and preaching. Deacons took on greater responsibility in hospital visits and in funerals. Leadership skills were deepened as the church did Vacation Bible School in my absence and the session got to experience their own Sabbath time as well. My church needs a pastor who models that rest and play are important and healthy.
It’s time for me and all of us to put away the guilt. I owe it to myself to practice Sabbath time, to take vacations and to remember that it is holy time. And we owe it to work together so that all humans are in workplaces and communities that pay just wages and prioritize vacation time.
I am back home and back to work, but I am not the same. I feel rested and reenergized. I have restored hope, having witnessed that despite the violence and division in our world, people are genuinely good and God’s creation is magnificent. I have new friends and new eyes and a journal filled with new sermon illustrations. We all need to be reminded that “on the seventh day God rested” and that we too are invited – no, commanded – to share in that rhythm of work and rest. Thanks be to God for the gift of Sabbath and vacation and play.
KRISTIN STROBLE serves as the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, Ohio. She enjoys coffee, books, running and spending time outdoors.