Even Jesus Took A Break

A two week vacation is one thing. The regimen of actual life is quite another. I’m sure you realize this.

It might sound unbelievable, but Jen and I figured out that the vacation we just ended was the seventh in my twenty-five years of church work. What’s unbelievable to me is that before we started taking a vacation, I never knew just how much I actually needed one.

As a kid growing up in central Illinois, it was never assumed that at some point during the summer break, the family would board a plane or jump into a car and leave everything behind. Summer wasn’t much more than freedom from the school day’s shackles. It was about getting up and feeling like every morning was Saturday. It was about counting out a hundred pennies from the penny jar (which was the entry fee to the local pool), putting them into a paper cup, and doing my best not to spill them while holding a towel and riding my bike. Or perhaps my day would begin by eating a bowl of cereal, putting my ball glove through the handlebars of my bicycle before hopping on, and adventuring through the streets of Danville with my neighborhood friends until the sun went down. Somewhere along the way, we’d find food and water. Somewhere along the way, we’d jump ramps and play games like “hot box.” Somewhere along the way, we’d make new bike trails through mid-city fields and forests behind familiar neighborhoods. Somewhere along the way we’d end up in a wrestling match—sometimes for fun and sometimes not. And always before the last of the street lights came on, my bike was back in the shed and I was ready to call it a day—at least until the late night monster movies slid in behind the evening news. Then it was time to sprawl out on the living room floor, my head resting in my hands on propped elbows, and doing my best to see if I could stay awake through to the end of the double feature.

I suppose beyond any of this, getting away meant going camping at a state park just outside of town, a place we knew just as well as our own neighborhoods. And while there, the kids would do the exact same things we did in the city. We’d ride our bikes, play hot box, cut trails, and get into scraps—all coming to an end when the campfire lights were brighter than the sky and the mosquitoes were on the hunt.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve never really known how important it is to actually take the time to put some distance between “self” and “actual life”—to actually go and do and be something that’s a little bit different than what you are the rest of the year.

For me, the going, doing, and being has pretty much become about my role as a husband, father, and writer. Yes, I experience these roles every day of the year, but admittedly, they’re more than overshadowed by my role as “pastor.” I’m a man who is and must be accessible to hundreds of others who aren’t my wife or children. As someone who enjoys the creative writing process, most of what I scribe ends up in sermons, eNews articles, or other such outlets aimed at the fulfillment of others.

It might sound like what I do all year long isn’t fulfilling, but that’s not what I mean. On vacation, things are different. Very different. And this good. And I’ve learned just how healthy it can be. Knowing this, I continue to sort out the boundaries for protecting the Thoma vacation.

Just to give you some perspective on this, while sitting on the couch watching “Shark Week” reruns with the kids, I heard a ping to my phone. It was a text from the congregation president. He’d just finished a special council meeting and was asking if I might send out a quick email to let folks know about the congregation meeting being scheduled for July 21. The meeting has to happen soon in order to complete the efforts of the Call Committee. Now, this gent is more than mindful of the sanctity of my time away, and so his text was somewhat sheepish. He just didn’t want to bother me. Still, I understand why he sent the text. As the congregation president, he had to. I’m the only one who has access to the eNews mailing list, and our by-laws require a two week notice for a congregation meeting. But no sooner than I sent that email did I receive a collection of reply messages, phone calls, and texts from folks inside and outside of the congregation—all on the mailing list—who thought I was home from my vacation. I sent a text back to the president—one adorned with a smiley face to let him know I wasn’t bothered by his request, but that next time I would just give him access to the mailing list.

Lesson learned, just like others the Thoma family has cultured over the years.

Now that we know the joy-filled rejuvenation of vacationing, we have established a family rule that we cannot vacation within a one thousand mile radius of our home. It’s kind of a mental thing. It stems from the attempts we’ve made in the past to take vacations only to be called back a few days into the getaway because of an emergency. With that, we decided that if we’re ever going to accomplish an actual vacation, we’d have to kick for the goal line. That’s when we started going to Florida instead of places like Traverse City. When we’re only a few hundred miles away, it seems easier for me to just pack up and head back home, leaving the family behind to finish the vacation.

But mentally, a thousand miles seems a lot harder. And it’s certainly more convincing on the phone.

“Pastor, there’s been a zombie outbreak in Hartland. We need you to come home and provide spiritual care to the ones who’ve been bitten and are dying. And while you’re here, we sure could use your help fighting the ones who are turning.”

“I’m a thousand miles away. Grab a Bible and pray the Psalms with them. Just be sure to do it wearing body armor—in case they turn before you finish. I’ll be back on Friday night. On Saturday, I’ll finish unpacking, and then I’ll grab my bat and get down to Hartland to help you fight the undead.”

If the caller is persistent, I’d remind him or her that rest is essential, even for Christians. We’re the ones put into place to hold the lines against both visible and invisible forces. And don’t forget, even as God doesn’t necessarily need to rest, He certainly set the stage for us to know what it means after He created the world. Ultimately, He ended up mandating rest. And then the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came along and put another divine stamp of approval on the idea of rest when He reminded us that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). A few chapters later, He urged His disciples to join Him in a much needed time of rest away from the busy cadence of serving the people (Mark 6:31).

Even Jesus took a break.

Yes, I know at a base level, when we’re talking about Sabbath rest, we’re being led to the importance of holy worship—that time of respite in the arms of the One who cares for us, giving us the forgiveness of sins and strengthening us for life in this world. But the theme of mental and physical rest is woven into these details, too. God sometimes has to mandate the good things, the beneficial things. He has to mandate silence. He has to mandate reverence. He has to mandate prayer. He has to mandate rest. He knows that if He doesn’t tell us to do it, we won’t, and then we’ll miss the benefits inherent to these things.

I guess the reason I’m spending so much time with all of this is because, first, I haven’t written an eNews article in two weeks and it’s sort of bottled up. Remember, when I sit down to write these things, it’s more or less a “say whatever comes to mind” scenario. But second, be sure to take a vacation. It doesn’t mean you have to go anywhere. It just means separating from the regimen of everyday life in order to rejuvenate the “self.”

We all need it. We might not think we do. We might think we can continue to go and go and go without ever slowing down, but we can’t. God knows it. And it’s been a hard lesson for me to learn over the course of twenty-five years.

And so with that, if you haven’t already, I hope you’ll find some time this summer to land at a restful place—whether that be a cabin up north, a place somewhere down south, or your own back yard. I hope it’ll be a time of thankfulness to God for His merciful kindness. I hope you’ll find rejuvenation, so that when the dust of everyday existence kicks up again, you’ll be just as ready as the rest of us to lock arms and hold the line in the trenches.

The World’s Rip Current of Busy-ness

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is only 16 days away? That’s only 23,040 minutes! Considering that many among us plan our schedules by the minute rather than by the day, all of the events that land on our calendars with the intent of consuming our time sometimes leaves us thinking that life feels a little more like a rip current—a turbulent flow carrying us away from shore even as we try to swim against it—rather than a sometimes slow and sometimes fast stream that provides for both leisure as well as challenge. I read an article last week about how this is affecting children. In it, the author said:

“For years now, a consensus has been emerging that a subset of hard-driving, Ivy-longing parents is burdening their children with too many soccer tournaments, violin lessons and cooking classes. A small library of books has been published with names like The Over-Scheduled Child, The Pressured Child, Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids and so on.”

A little further into the article, he suggested a solution:

“The antidote to the problem… is to make sure children have enough time with no activities, parents have enough time with no work and the two sides come together to create activities of their own.”

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think that God provided the solution to this problem long before the clinical child psychologists ever started pondering it.

Take a look at the following portion from Luther’s Large Catechism regarding the meaning of the Third Commandment, which is, of course, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”

“To offer ordinary people a Christian interpretation of what God requires in this commandment, we point out that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and well informed Christians, for these have no need of them. We keep them, first, for the sake of bodily need. Nature teaches and demands that the common people—man-servants and maid-servants who have attended to their work and trades the whole week long—should retire for a day to rest and be refreshed. Secondly and most especially, we keep holy days so that people may have time and opportunity, which otherwise would not be available, to participate in public worship, that is, that they may assemble to hear and discuss God’s Word and then praise God with song and prayer.”

I think it’s kind of interesting, too, that in the very next Commandment—the Fourth Commandment, which deals with the honor due parents as Godly authorities—after some pretty lengthy instruction for children, Luther turns toward the parents and writes:

“Parents should consider that they owe obedience to God, and that, above all, they should earnestly and faithfully discharge the duties of their office, not only to provide for the material support of their children, servants, subjects, etc., but especially to bring them up to the praise and honor of God. Therefore do not imagine that the parental office is a matter of your pleasure and whim. It is a strict commandment and injunction of God, who holds you accountable for it.”

When you put these two commands together, first you see the one particular time and place that God has given for us to rest and be refreshed together as a family—holy worship. And second, you see how important it is to God that parents would be faithful in setting aside all of the busy-ness that would distract from or take priority over being together as a family and keeping the Sabbath day holy. A thorough reading of both explanations of these commands and you’ll more than see the urgency for doing this, not only for the sake of rest, but for the sake of establishing the right foundations for faith.

God knows the world tries to pull us into the rip current. He knows that if we try to swim against the current, we’ll become exhausted. With this, He has given His Son to die and rise for us, giving us the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to see that there’s a way out. In a real rip current, to escape really isn’t that hard. You need only to swim to the right or to the left of it. In this life, getting what God has for your refreshing and re-strengthening isn’t that hard, either. It happens every Sunday. And what’s even more amazing is that to be in holy worship is to be lifted up and out of the rip current completely. You don’t do any swimming. He does all the work. There is worship you are rescued, your are set on shore, you are given dry clothes—the robe of Christ’s righteousness—and you are well nourished for the next wave that may come and try to sweep you away. If you and your children don’t receive this nourishment, if you try to swim without what God provides, you will drown. That’s the hard truth.

By God’s grace, be encouraged to be with Him in His presence to receive this nourishment as often as it is provided. He loves you, and He wants for you to be refreshed alongside your resting Christian family.