Five Benefits of Vacation

There are at least five benefits of taking time off and being away. I'm talking about the wonderful deposits we place into our souls when we take a vacation.I’m returning from four weeks off of work. Four weeks might seem like an extravagance—that you cannot afford. I understand that. But for me—for us—we simply had to take this time off and had to be away. Here’s why

  1. I needed time off and away because I needed to detox my soul.

Stress can make you sick. Like a sponge, we absorb so many things around us and into us that we are not fully aware as to how much we have taken on and taken in UNTIL we are off and away. My time off allowed me the much needed time and space to realize a few things:There had been too much work.There had been too much time devoted to problem solving. My mind was too busy--too filled with people, stuff and things that drain and not give me life. I needed my vacation. I needed every bit of it and there is nothing wrong or nothing really selfish about taking time off. In doing so, we will be the better for it and the better for all, if we take the time we need to trickle charge our inner batteries.There had been to much care-giving that I almost reached my tipping point of what felt like going over the edge—the edge into a very dark space that I could feel, smell and a space that touched me in the dark hours of the night. We greatly underestimate the toil of our work on our souls. Take some time to think  about what you've lost by all your gaining at work.For me, everything and everyone began to feel “too much”. This was a sign of how desperately I needed the time off and the time away. When our thinking becomes jaded; when we live in a state of cynicism and sarcasm and the inner voice begins to chant to us that “No one cares and no one ever will care…” then this is a time to stop. This is a time to dis-engage. This is a time to pull away and be as off as you possibly can.I realized that in the past year I had tried to save many drowning victims. Some of them made it and survived. I’m glad for that. But in all my efforts and my accumulated sense of fatigue of over 40 years of ministry of saving others, I was thinking that I may not survive--that I could not save myself from the rip tide of a raging current I felt sucked into. I needed time to rest, time to breath and time to come back to my senses.Few of us have the ability to be aware and awakened to the slow, steady drain on us of our work—especially if we are in caring professions such as teaching, ministry, mission or helping people. My slow leak in my soul had to be looked at and stopped if I was to make it to the finish line. My time off allowed me this time to de-tox from the toxins that had accumulated in me, on me and around me.Time off and away helped me to regain a sense of who I am and what I want to be about.  Time off does that--it helps us come to our senses. Like the prodigal in the parable of Jesus, a pig stye of a mess can help us come to our senses.  Sometimes pig-styes helps us decide who we are and what we want in life.

  1. My time off meant I needed to be away and not just off.

Because I office in my home, home can sometimes be a symbol of work, not just a home. My cluttered desk symbolized my cluttered mind and muddied mind. I needed to be away.  To vacation is meant to "vacate" or leave the ordinariness of our lives and to walk into some kind of adventure that will help us--if not heal us.Jesus knew this well. He explicitly told his followers that “It is to your advantage that I go away”. His being away would call his followers up to lead, not to just follow. He was, of course speaking of the advantages of his Spirit coming soon, but nonetheless, he left them many times in doing his own inner work of  solitude and vacating his own work for the work of his soul.My time away meant unplugging and detaching from mind-draining meetings filled with conversations about plans and strategy. My time away meant I would bask in sunshine and the shelter of Douglass Furs. I would stare at humpback whales not my computer screen. My time away would be time to let myself “come down where I ought to be” as the Quakers say so beautifully in their anthem, “Tis’ a gift to be simple. Tis' a gift to be free. Tis' a gift to come down where we ought to be.”  Vacations help us to come down. We come down from the junkie highs of busyness and adrenaline rushes and addictions of doing way, way too much in our lives and with our lives. Vacations can be a taste of the simple life--a glimpse of what heaven may be like.My time off meant a time away to the pacific shores of California and into the wilderness of Colorado. Wilderness is the soul’s invitation to rest—to become small in the grandeur of mountains too great to comprehend and sunsets too glorious to do anything other than shut my mouth and open my heart. I needed the greetings of trees, the swells of the ocean tides and the song of the western Tangier—I saw my first one and the lushness of green meadows.3. My time off and away was a time to go into beauty and to breath it in. There is nothing that replentishes the soul like beauty. Beauty awakens us to another world we miss when we move and live in perpetual busyness and in our multi-tasking, overly complicated lives. We think too much of ourselves, our work and our accomplishments. Beauty makes us feel small and when we become small, we are allowed to fathom true greatness and Greatness. Beauty pierces us and I needed to be pierced to let the pus out of my infected life. I had become infected and the antidote to the soul’s infection is quiet beauty. I listened to music. I walked in solitude across the summer wildflowers of Crested Butte landscapes. I sat by roaring rivers that flowed….that’s all the river did. It flowed and flowed…and I thought to myself, I want my soul to flow again. Day by day I began to feel the flow again with me. It was life and it was good. It was very good. In time and through time I felt myself becoming unstuck--and isn't that anyone's real goal in life... not to be stuck but in the flow of real life?

  1. My time off and away fostered an intimacy within with God and with my wife.

When we are “on” we feel torn between priorities and choices. Time off and away relaxed that tension. We did what we WANTED to do and we did not do what we did not want to do. We made healthy choices about meals. We hiked a lot and that led to conversations we enjoyed that we simply did not have back in our routine of life.On one day, Gwen and I were praying together and reading a Psalm—the poetry for the soul. We were struck with one verse in which the Psalmist says so simply God wants to bless us with peace.(Psalm 22:11). I thought, “God really wants me to experience peace—to live a peaceful life. This is what he longs for when he thinks of me. He’s not so much concerned with the questions I am about my work and life. He simply wants me to live a life of peace.” I loved that verse and I love it to this day. I want that peace more than I want anything else in my life, don’t you?Gwen and I chose not to talk about some things; some people and some future things. We needed our minds and our adrenalin glands to relax. So shelving some conversations simply helped us. We live in the complex world of relationships and people’s problems including our own. So choosing to NOT go “there” actually helped us.  Hard talks and difficult conversations are always going to need to be processed. But perhaps we can even choose to "vacate" difficult subjects and to allow the soul and our tired, worn bodies to recuperate. There will always be re-engagement but for this time--for this time off and away we need to work on what we engage in and what we vacate from.In the few days back now, we’ve chosen to transition (and we are taking three days to be back home and transition to a very full schedule) we are now beginning to talk about this next week, next month and next season that is here. But the choice to Sabbath from so much work-talk, God-talk and people talked helped us to simply BE together and not feel torn apart by our opinions and ideas.  One big mistake I see people doing is not allowing transition time to come back early, unpack, get ready to re-engage. There's a rhythm to everything---even to a healthy vacation. I've learned the hard way by years and years of stop and jerking back in--feeling the jerk of a quick re-entry without time, grace and being good to myself and perhaps my team mates.

  1. Our time off and away helped us experience rich times of contemplation and life-giving reflection.

Time off and away allowed us time to chew on what we were reading rather than speed reading to get through the book or text. We read, re-read and continue to read again some chapters from amazing books such as Eugene Peterson’s brand new and yet his last book to publish, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” One chapter in particular about “training up children” or parenting has us talking everyday about what it means to raise up a child, a staff member and people in general. We read poems and poems read us. We took the time to slowly digest words so that they did, in fact become our necessary bread each day. I read a wonderful book by an African about silence. Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book, “The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise” offered me words from a perspective other than an American to understand the sheer power of silence and what silence can do in us. I have loved this book and his thoughts—so different from my own.We chose to not watch the news. We chose to not know what was going on out there so we might better know what was going on in our own hearts and within us. It was a healthy choice for us. I chose to have no communication with our team at work. I needed a hard line to be drawn so that I would not try to spin the plates of work, team and planning with my own soul's work and need to find life with me.  Again, it was a healthy choice. I had a few emails that I chose to respond to but hearing nothing helped me hear more deeply from Someone who really wanted all of me for this time.The lost art of contemplation and reflection is a great concern of mine. We are so bent on getting information. Our churches have perhaps fallen into this also. So much teaching. So much preaching. So much information giving. We forget that the spiritual life is first, of all, a life to be lived…not the amassing of more and more stuff. We have no time to process what is happening in us and around us. We are reactionary to everyone and everything popping off at the mouth on social media leaving carnage in our social media paths. I'm tired of this. I'm very tired of this.We cannot live the spiritual life or a life marked by abundance by feasting on the stale bread of social media. We can not make sense of life, God, relationships or anything else in 140 characters. That's the simple truth. There I said it.  So, I chose to fast from Facebook. I chose to fast so that I could feast on something far, far, far more nourishing to my soul than seeing pictures of you and those imagines stirring up feelings in me that I often would not like. Your times in Mexico and the beach only made me jealous actually. While I was sometimes glad for you, I was more wondering why I couldn’t be sipping that drink I saw you drinking? There was room under that umbrella on the beach. So why didn’t you invite me to join you?” Things like that and more and worse made me glad to choose to leave the false and pretend world we project so often on social media platforms. That world does not foster the real world of intimacy, connection and peace. At least it does not for me.If Jesus, himself took regular time off and to be away then why shouldn’t we do the same? This is a question that seems to run counter-cultural to our ethos of work and life and our not taking the time off and by being away may be doing far, far, far more damage than we can realize by being on; being present and being consumed with our everyday life. There are many more benefits from time spent being off and away. Think of your own and make the choice to come back to life as I am doing.(If you buy the books I mentioned here on the links provided,  your purchases will benefit the ministry of Potter's Inn.)

Learning to HALT

In working with leaders in ministry and the marketplace for over 40 years I see an alarming tendency among busy leaders who are working hard to make life, family, faith, church and friendships work well. We resist stopping to take inventory of our lives. [tweetthis]We press hard but find it difficult to evaluate HOW we are doing with WHAT we are doing.[/tweetthis]When I sit in on Team meetings, where long rang plans are being discussed, I see the flow charts and organization charts that faithful team members have worked hard to develop with their goals, dreams, strategies and plans. But rarely, if ever do I see a team who stops to consider the real costs for implementing the plan they have worked so hard to develop.This spring, our team at Potter’s Inn sought to re-define the word “capacity.” We felt it necessary to re-define this word and concept because we were all feeling like we were facing our limits. We were feeling the early signs of exceeding our limits. By re-defining our own capacity—especially in the work we do with people, we were learning to set more realistic goals and limits and understand that we are not running a race here—we are in more of a marathon. If we did not set limits for ourselves, we would simply not be able to sustain our work, life and message. Is your life sustainable at the pace you’ve been living recently? It you feel like it’s not, then it’s time to practice something I want to explore further here with you.One church team I work with developed a plan to plant 100 churches in their region of the country. They filled in their dreams on a whiteboard—nothing suggests a limitless life like a white board to me. They would need more gifted, passionate and trained people: pastors, worship leaders, small group leaders, more space to hold meetings and on and on it went. But as I sat and listened to their noble goals and dreams I found myself sitting with one nagging questions: What is the plan going to cost your marriages, your children, your health, your sanity and your well-being? It’s a good question. It’s a fair question. It’s a needed question. This is a soul care question!Most leaders get into trouble because there is little if any self-care and self-awareness of what is being required of them and all the ways that they are giving and giving but rarely receiving. Most of us are trained with an ethos that says: Do more. Do everything. Do the impossible. It’s a dangerous elixir we drink---a cocktail that makes us live in a drunken stupor and have the audacity to call this a life—even an abundant life. The pace in which we are living and working; raising our families and maintaining a marriage, financial security and meeting all the needs we try to meet is staggering—if not insane. WE are trying to do more than Jesus did. For whatever reason, we will not sit with the fact that Jesus lived in a rhythm of life that sustained him, not depleted him and he felt no sense of urgency to even begin his work until he was 30 years old. We smugly think that he wasted such a vast amount of time. What could he have done if he would have started at 18?The key to maintaining a sense of resiliency and spiritual vitality is to do a simple self-evaluation using the HALT acronym. This helpful tool, when practiced can increase a leader’s capacity to care for themselves and maintain equilibrium to stand up and move forward rather than spinning out of control or burning out our burning up.The HALT exercise reminds to ask ourselves if we are H-ungry, A-NGRY, L-onely or T-ired. Let me explain. (HALT is not original with me but one of the most useful tools in the great movement of Alcoholic Anonymous.) When our basic needs are not being met in life, we find ourselves being susceptible and vulnerable to behaviors that will bring us down; help us self-destruct; enable addictive behaviors such as over-eating, pornography or withdrawing.  When we don't HALT, we have a distinct tendency to mess up, sin big and live in a shame that is intolerable. By using the HALT exercise, we gain self-awareness about what is really happening in us and around us.Hunger can be some emotional need not being met or a true physical hunger. Hunger, though is far more than about food. We all have a hunger for affection, care, accomplishment and understanding. When these needs are neglecting, something triggers inside to begin to demand our hunger find satisfaction. When we are physically hungry, we can overdose on junk food—forsaking nutritional food for a quick fix to our emptiness. This happens in all forms of addiction as well. What is the real food your heart needs? What is the good food your body is crying out for? Is it for comfort or it is for your health? When we stop and HALT, we can catch ourselves in the act before we blow it and mess up.Anger. It’s a healthy emotion to experience anger. But even more important is to HALT and see what is triggering you from feeling so angry. What is underneath your anger? What is pushing up in you and coming out as anger? HALT and take a breath and back off when your kids are pushing you to your limit. Rather than choosing to release the pressure valve on your anger and let the steam off, see for a moment what is really going on in you. Is it that your child spilt the milk at the dinner table? Or is it that your embarrassed that y our child spilled the milk when your guests were over for dinner and you felt like a “bad “ parent. I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that anger is rarely the first emotion we feel. Our feelings of anger are often enmeshed in other feelings that quickly morph into anger. Until we look below the surface at our anger and HALT, we will always find ourselves reacting rather than responding to our teammates, spouses, and friends. By learning to let your anger teach you and guide you into a deeper reality, we can really know ourselves better and thus respond in a way that is more loving and healthy.Loneliness. When we feel isolated, abandoned, alone and alienated we find ourselves in a inner-brewing storm that can easily escalate into a form of behavior that is destructive. Deep feelings of loneliness can cause us to try to assuage them by acting out. I find when I travel alone, I most always never make good choices about eating. I over-indulge; eat too much and find it hard to withstand temptations and powers that feel like a category 5 storm that I simply have no power to stand up and make a good choice. Sometimes we even hide when we are lonely surmising that no one will understand; no one really cares; no one gives a damn anyway. These kinds of feelings often converge with other feelings and actions that make us feel even more isolated. What’s important is the power of being listened to. By simply having someone listen to you, there is a powerful healing agent to help us feel not to alone and isolated after all. When you HALT, and assess what is really going on, it’s helpful to simply call a friend and process what is being stirred up inside. Just showing up to a group, an event, a meeting, a support group or for a fathering of friends helps disprove the lie we so often believe that no one really cares. I am stunned at how many “successful” leaders in church and in the marketplace often share their feelings of being totally isolated and feelings of “It’s lonely at the top.” Being in a healthy community is a part of taking care of our souls. It’s really important and non-negotiable. Two are better than one.Tiredness: Fatigue always takes a toil on us. Without recovery time from each event, service, activity, we tap into our adrenalin gland to “get ‘ur done”. And exhaustion is really at the core of so many of us who are busy, over committed and trying to figure out rivaling priorities. By doing a HALT exercise each week, you can let your body actually tell you how tired you are. Rest and sleep is the core building block for a healthy life! When we live tired, runned down and in a mentality of surviving, are pushing ourselves way too hard. How can you be compassionate to your body—your own physical body that has carried you through time zones to another meeting; gotten up early to make a meeting and stayed up late to finish a project. What is your personal rhythm for rest and renewal? How have you been pushing yourself at the expense of your physical health? How has your own personal sense of being so tired affected your over all well-being? By sitting with these kind of questions, you will not only find yourself HALTing but giving mercy, compassion and self-care to your body. There really is a body-soul connection. If you’re not feeling well…. Then you’re really not well. It’s that simple.By using this helpful acronym of HALT, we can learn to monitor how we are really doing with what we are doing! We can do a HALT on our Sabbath—that one day we set aside to rest and enjoy. By learning to HALT on a regular basis, we are caring for ourselves, caring for those we love and caring for those who love us.Why not practice your HALT by doing this one day a week?What about doing this with your spouse? Your small group?  Your closest friends?  What about journaling your HALT each week and watch yourself grow in your own self-awareness, self-compassion and soul care?

Many people are finding two specific chapters of my book, Inside Job: Doing the Work within the Work very, very helpful on the topic of understanding your limits; living a time of transition and living in a sustainable rhythm. You can read more about Inside Job here and order it along with a workbook. 
Please check out our new website, designed for more than just information--a beautiful experience of stunning images and ideas for our own soul care!  Check out 
Twice a year, Potter's Inn offers our hallmark retreat, The Soul Care Experience where you get to hear the life changing messages of caring for your soul and actually practice them on site. The Soul Care Experience in August is full but we are accepting a wait list.  The retreat in September has a few openings. Check out the Soul Care Experience here!