Needing Air Masks

I loved how Holy Week and Easter morning unfolded this year.  Of course, I find that the richness of the liturgy is so great that no matter how many mistakes I may make, the significance and connection these services offer doesn’t fail.  After Easter Sunday I took three days off.  Well, Monday is one of my usual days off but I took Tuesday and Wednesday too.

Taking time off is a bit of a pain and I almost always have to force myself to actually do it.  Routinely, I sit in my office in the days leading up to time off arranging for others to cover some responsibilities, cancelling some events, delaying some conversations, praying that no one dies, and talking myself into actually being gone.  It seems easier in these moments not to leave.  Not taking time off would save me from writing the email detailing work that I do from memory, keep me from saying “later” to conversations that I enjoy having, wouldn’t have me asking other people to go out of their way to let me sleep in.

Three things stop me.  One, as someone quoted someone else as saying, “an overworked priest is depriving others of their baptismal ministry.”  If I insist on doing everything myself, I am, at some point, getting in the way of someone else doing things God has called them to.  

Two, many of the things I do are not essential.  The Church, not even my little parish, will not collapse if we have to make do without bulletins or if the newsletter doesn’t get emailed. 

And third, taking my vacation time is what allows me to keep being a priest.  This work I do is exhausting.  Not because my hours (especially in Lent and Holy Week) can be long, not because I work almost every weekend and major holiday, not because of evening meetings or unpredictable phone calls.  This work is exhausting because to be with a community and to listen to the joys and sorrows, the struggles and and griefs, is exhausting.  It is holy work and there’s nothing else I want to do.  But it is hard.  My body and my soul both need times of rest and renewal.  

Not too long ago I read that Reverend Willimon has invited us to reconsider Sabbath as more than time off but as time for God.  I find vacation time, and similarly regular days off, grey space where I need the time off to care for myself so that I can keep looking forward to going to work.  They are time for me and time for God.

When it’s hard, either being a priest or taking time off, I remind myself of an analogy a seminary classmate shared (which had been shared with her and in the great economy I have shared many times since).  During the emergency announcements on a plane, we are told to put our own air mask on before helping someone else with theirs.  Not because we don’t want everyone to be able to breath, but because if we don’t put our own air mask on first we won’t breath.

Why did I take three days off after Easter?  Because I needed my air mask.  Lent and a Holy Week has been particularly full of work this year with lots of nights and Saturdays (my other day off) and a few Mondays.  My house needed cleaning.  My body needed rest.  My spirit needed rejuvenation.

I needed my air mask.

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