Each year as I plan my continuing education, I look for diverse opportunities to learn and grow as a pastor. I have spent time at national events, on seminary campuses and in remote camps.
I love to learn, so it is tempting to pack two weeks full of content that will stretch me. I learned early on that this is not always the best use of my time. I am an introvert — so as much as I love structured events, they wear me out quickly. I try to take a couple days each year to go on a retreat to reenergize and renew my own faith. I have done loosely structured pastor’s retreats, silent retreats and low-key larger events. I struggled those first few years to internally justify a weekend spent in silence, or some time midweek to be fed. However, experience has now shown me that these are some of the most valuable uses of my time. I need to take time to reset, to be fed, to reconnect with God, whose people I am called to serve.
I cannot lead well if my tank is running on empty. Ministry is often challenging work. Some of the days are long. Some of the seasons are full of stress and lack of sleep. There are constant curveballs to be managed. I can find myself in a rut, where I let spiritual practices slide a bit more than I would like to. This usually leads to a grumpy human being doing tasks with little or no heart. Ministry cannot be reduced to a to-do list. (I LOVE lists, so this is a big temptation for me.)
I fight my guilt-filled instincts each year and I leave behind the work of ministry and family. I venture out alone to be fed, to sit in the silence. In those sacred moments, I often feel renewed in my sense of call. I spend time reading, walking, sleeping, writing and praying. Somewhere along the way I find the strength and grace to keep on leading the people I am called to serve.
This fall I will be heading out to spend three days in a cabin alone. I know at the end of those three days I will be eager to wrap my arms around my child, pet my dog and watch TV. I will also be refreshed and full of gratitude for the great privilege of serving the people of God.
REBECCA GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.