One of the things we were taught in seminary was the absolute importance of self-care. Again and again, we aspiring ministers were asked how we were planning to take care of ourselves and refill our depleted stores of energy and inspiration. Knowing that most ministers are prone to being over-achievers, complete with lives and schedules that are regularly over-full , my teachers prodded, encouraged, demanded, and pushed my colleagues and I to take self-care seriously. They suggested all sorts of ways to accomplish it: daily prayer and meditation, exercise, dance, singing lessons, journaling…
My friend and colleague, Rev. Mark Belletini explains it this way:
…Ministers, like everyone else in the congregation, long for times of restoration and equilibrium, times that can help bring us back to ourselves. Such times of restoration are customarily called our devotional life.… Harry Schofield, my great mentor, says that if we don’t pay attention to our devotional life, we will “dry up and blow away like fragile autumn leaves in a gray rainstorm.” I agree.
By the end of June, my spirit does indeed feel parched—or at least quite thirsty. And yet, the reality of a minister’s life—and most of your lives too, if I was to venture a guess—is that without planning, I rarely get around to self-care. You know how it goes: if I don’t put it on the calendar, the calendar fills up and suddenly there isn’t time for that walk, or poetry class, or quiet moment alone. And because ministry is an “on-call” profession, even when I’ve planned time for self-care, if a crisis arises, I am off to the hospital or the office.
Then comes summer. Unitarian Universalist ministers are privileged to have congregations that understand that for ministers to minister well, they need time to relax, refresh, and reconnect to their sources of inspiration. For me, that means four weeks of vacation each July, and four weeks of study leave which I most often split between early August and midwinter.
I gladly and (almost) without guilt throw myself into my summer vacation. This summer, after heading to Louisville, Kentucky for General Assembly, I’ll preach the last Sunday of June and then be on vacation. Toni and I may wander back to California for a while, stopping in Salt Lake City to see family and friends. I’m also looking forward to time set aside for art, reading, corresponding with friends I’ve neglected during the church year, and maybe a road trip or two to explore our new Midwestern back yard. And of course, I’ll set some time aside just to do nothing.
While I’m away, the Board and the Community Care Committee (formerly the Member Care Committee) will hold down the fort. Of course, if there is a true emergency, the President and our administrator will know how to get ahold of me. But instead of my head swimming with budget projections, ideas for leadership development, sermons and worship services, and all the other details of ministry, my vacation will give me time to empty myself and experience the slow and delicious restoration of my soul. And no doubt, by my return in August, I’ll be brimming with energy and ideas for next year.
Love Will Guide Us,