Father David Epps's picture

Vacations can often be a source of stress and anxiety. All too often, these times away can be filled with travels, schedules, deadlines, places to go, people to see and, by the end of the vacation, one is in need of a vacation from the vacation! Such are the vacations I now attempt to avoid.

Although most people do not realize it, pastoral ministry can be, and often is, grueling. While most pastors seem friendly, relaxed, calm, peaceful, and unflappable, any good church secretary could testify that pastors live in a world that is tense, chaotic, stressful, full of drama, and difficult.

The pastor’s life is, largely, out of control. He could be resting in bed at 11:30 pm and, by 12:15, be at the downtown hospital where someone has had a heart attack, a stroke, or a car accident.

At other times, he serves as the referee between couples who, while on the service are the model of “family,” are teetering on the edge of divorce. I have served as a U.S. Marine, a social worker in the field of child abuse and neglect, a hospice chaplain, and a reserve police officer. So far, nothing is more draining or stressful than being a pastor.

So, when I go on vacation, it is, primarily, a time to “decompress” for a few days.

Last week, Cindy and I took a few days away in the North Carolina mountains near Cashiers. While the first part of the week was spent on the phone dealing with a situation that required a great deal of time and input, the latter part of the week became, for the most part, calm.

The first night, I slept 10 hours, something I assumed it was physically impossible to do. It was in the mountains that I discovered that one can still build a fire in the fireplace in the middle of June due to the chilly morning mountain temperatures.

I did my morning prayers on the screened-in back porch of the house we rented, wrapped in a blanket, nursing a steaming cup of hot coffee. Later, around noon, the temperature rose to a cool 70 degrees and lingered there until dusk. The cool breezes made it easy to forget that Atlanta was experiencing afternoon highs of 95 that day.

One afternoon, I was reading alone by the small fish pond near the woods when I looked skyward and noticed the brilliant blue skies that hosted a smattering of white clouds and, for the first time in years, simply laid back and watched the clouds move and change shape.

Another morning, I spied an ant colony whose members were spreading out in all directions looking for scraps or for prey. At home, I would have rushed to the garage to locate the Amdro and eliminate the colony. Here, I simply kneeled down and enjoyed my own real life and real-time version of the Discovery Channel, marveling, as I had not done for years, at the energy and complexity of these tiny creatures.

I was going to exercise on this vacation, go on a diet, write a couple of articles, read a book titled, “Liturgical Theology,” by Simon Chan.

What I did was ignore television altogether, ate almond trout and rack of lamb, walked to the creek just to hear the sound of the water, fed a few squirrels, prayed, it seemed, almost constantly for my bishop who has suffered a stroke, and prayed for my sons and their families and prayed for the people in my churches.

I did call a few of them to check on them, but mostly I prayed. I did read a book by H. Dale Burke, “”How to Lead and Still Have a Life.”

I also spent time with, and thoroughly enjoyed the company of, the couple who rented the house with. She is a nursing professor, and he, an architect. He is a confirmed liberal and I am a theological conservative and a right-leaning political moderate. So we had good and respectful dialogues.

Now, I am back to the 96-degree temperatures, the days that begin before dawn and end, hopefully, before midnight, back to the tumultuous reality of church life — yet, I am strangely calm and relaxed so far — more focused, less anxious.

I need to get to the jail this week, a baby is about to be born to a new couple in our church, and I have had to assume a number of new responsibilities in the diocese that will take a wisdom beyond my own.

I have been asked to head a national committee, be the editor of a denominational magazine, and I have a doctoral dissertation to finish.

But when it gets really tough, I think I will go outside and look at clouds for a while, fed the squirrels, or locate an ant colony. I even know where there is a stream I can listen to.

If it gets really bad, I’ll turn up the air conditioning and build a fire in the fireplace, cover up in a blanket, and just read and pray until peace comes and calm returns.

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Submitted by jollibee on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 9:56am.

I agree that vacations sometimes become stressful. But it depends on the activities that you list on your schedule and also the place where you want to stay. mexico vacations and tours

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