It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” – Pirke Avot 2:16
I’m snuggled up in my bed, laptop on my right, and half-read novel on the left. I just returned from my two weeks as faculty at URJ’s Crane Lake Camp, and I am finally settling into my much-needed vacation. It’s become routine that the bulk of August each year is my vacation, which allows me both to recover from the year and prepare for the High Holy Days to come.
I am ready to turn my brain off, allow my heart rate to reach a calmer pace, and truly give myself a break. I have a wonderful list of books to read purely for pleasure, I have art projects to engage in, I have sites and events around New York City to attend. I’m even traveling home to Chicago for a few days to take care of some wedding planning details.
And, yet, with all of this time on my hands, and the permission to take a deep breath and rest, I find it so difficult to do so. I keep checking my email (even my work email). I have been active on Facebook and Twitter. I kvetch that my congregants don’t truly understand that I am on vacation, but then I realize (as my face blushes) that I give them mixed messages. The quote above, from Pirke Avot, sometimes haunts me. I know that it doesn’t mean to teach this, but I sometimes worry that it is telling me that I can’t ever fully escape from work.
Why is it so difficult, in this day and age, to take a true vacation?
Technology is certainly a big part of the problem, though I can’t place all the blame there. Due to my passion for, and involvement with, social media, I am always connected to people through a variety of channels. I do love this, and I love keeping in touch with so many family and friends all over the world. Thanks to my beloved iPhone, I’m not only reachable by email, Facebook, and Twitter, but also through myriad games and smaller social networks.
So, my next stubborn response is – I might just have to take a cruise or travel to some place without signal in order to TRULY get away. Yeah, that’s it: go to a place where no one can reach me, where I will be alone with my books and music, and I will be at peace for a few precious days. I wonder how many of us have had a similar fantasy. But this removes any of the responsibility from me. I turn all of the power over to the phone, and take none of the blame for having porous boundaries and unclear delineations between my personal life and my work.
(Oh, wait, I had to pause my writing to respond to an email about a pressing matter at the synagogue that just couldn’t wait until I got back). See – that’s how easy it is to give in, to lose out on an important boundary. Each time we give in, we give the other people the message that it’s okay to interrupt our rest, and that our self-care isn’t really that important. We communicate that our own needs will always be secondary or even tertiary. This doesn’t just apply to clergy, or even to those in the helping professions. Many of us have trouble making these kinds of choices to take care of ourselves.
Sure, it feels nice to be needed, and to think that our jobs are so important that the workplace cannot function without us. And, yet, it somehow always does, which doesn’t mean that we aren’t necessary. Taking the time that we need to rejuvenate, to recharge, and to renew ourselves is a worthy, Jewish value. The only evidence you need is Shabbat. Yes, we are part of a tradition that values rest, so much so that we are commanded to rest every seven days. We may feel guilty taking a week vacation over the summer or traveling somewhere over winter break, but there is no need. Instead, just remember that we are meant to rest, and that God commands us to rest. Deuteronomy 2:4 even commands us, “Take good care of yourselves.”
I pray that we all get the rest we need, and give ourselves permission to truly experience a vacation from work. I know that I will be working hard to do this, and to have a healthier boundary between myself and work. Now, where was that book I was reading….?