One strategic 15 minute step to create a more fulfilling and productive 2024
It’s getting close to New Year’s resolution time. You might be the kind of person that looks forward to making New Year’s resolutions, and perhaps you’re even one of those rare individuals who follow through on them!
As I head further into my late 50s, I know all too well how easy it is to make crazy New Year’s resolutions that blow up before mid January. Based on what I’ve heard, I’m not alone on that ride.
But, that doesn’t mean our desire for positive change should be dismissed, nor should the opportunity of a new year be tossed to the curb.
What I want to suggest is something pretty easy, that will probably take about 15 minutes, but it could have a profound impact on your level of fulfillment and sense of accomplishment by the end of next year– should you be granted the entire year–which of course I hope is the case!
What in the world am I talking about?
I’m talking about taking those 15 minutes to sit down in front of a calendar and plan out two specific things: when you are going to take retreat days, and when you are going to take vacations.
Why these two things? Well, for my money, I think those two things are vital to reducing burnout, and also to help us honor time with our families and nurture our souls. If we can get those in place and honor them, life can be so much better. Of course how we spend our work weeks is important, and I’ll address that later in this blog. First, we’ll explore the wonderful world of retreats.
Well, for a number of reasons. First, retreat days are vital for hearing from the Lord in more substantial ways than the typical daily devotion. Second, they provide timely respite from the stress and strain of work that accumulates throughout the year. And third, they also provide an opportunity to develop the resolve to incorporate new changes into your life, such as how you spend your time during the week!
What are Retreat Days?
What is a retreat day, you might ask? Like many of you know, essentially it’s a time that is set aside to be with God. It’s typically a weekday. For me, I’ve found Mondays or Fridays to be good days for them, or you can take it on the weekend–either as a part of your Sabbath or in addition to your day of worship. The day is meant to be restful, and include time for a walk and even a nap if you need it.
Many spiritual authors recommend taking a retreat day once a month if you are in a demanding ministry or vocation position. At the very least, I recommend taking a quarterly retreat.
I did four this past year, and each one of them provided much needed renewal, rest and time to go deeper with the Lord.
Just yesterday, I took my fourth one of the year, and it was such an extraordinary gift. The insights that emerged through journaling were such a blessing to my soul. Hearing from the Lord that my worth is a permanent gift from Him that can never be earned, was such a boost to my sense of my inherent dignity in Him. That growing sense of worth and dignity in Him provides foundational leverage to help me set better limits, and engage my life and work from a greater sense of security and joy. I don’t think I would have received that sweet sweet gift as I did had I not had an entire day to be still before God and be more aware of His loving, supportive presence.
Because those retreat days were so valuable, next year I’m going to increase the number to six, where roughly every 2 months I have a retreat day. The following year I’m shooting for 8! I hope I have the chance to write about the gift of those retreat days.
If you want to learn more about how to take a retreat, along with the benefits and things to watch out for, I have written a basic retreat guide that is free, that you can access by clicking here. You don’t even have to give me your email address! 🙂
But we have to round this out with vacations as well, because those are just so important.
First, let me hit on a few things that make taking vacations hard, in order to help you have more resolve to overcome these obstacles.
Obstacles to Vacations
First of course would be money. Vacations cost money, at least most of them, unless we do a staycation. And if you happen to be a small business owner like myself, you don’t get paid unless you’re working. That means it takes greater effort to save up for vacations, and then we have to make peace with the income we’re not making during that time. So it takes a commitment to both save for a vacation, within your budget, along with making peace with what you won’t make in order to go on vacation. These hurdles can hinder a lot of us.
Second, would be implicit demands from your boss or even the norms of your work culture. This particularly applies to people that work for a denomination or a church. I have to admit I was really surprised as I was working with people employed by a denomination who would get, let’s say four weeks of paid vacation a year, but find themselves only taking a week or two. What in the world, I thought! You get paid while you are on vacation and you don’t take it? How can this be?
It turns out some people actually lose vacation days because they have accumulated so many over the years, that they can’t take all their vacation days into the next year. That was so sad for me to hear. These people that are working so incredibly hard, and giving so much to the Lord, but aren’t taking vacation that is wide open for them.
It turns out that the norms around work that are implicit in the culture make it tough not to have their work form a core part of their identity, and that to support “the cause” of their denomination, means that they are to give their all to it, all the time. In other words, their work is so important and the demands around them feel so important, that to intentionally take all their vacation means they are not really invested in Kingdom work.
To me, this brings out the realities of spiritual warfare. I’m very confident that the leaders of their denomination would not agree with or endorse those implicit norms. Satan loves to have us chronically overextend, to where we become jaded or superficial or so much more likely to make foolish decisions.
The challenge, and part of the solution, which I hope this blog can bring out, is how important it is to consistently pray for growing in freedom as believers. This would include praying for: a growing sense of finding our identities in the Lord, apart from what we do, along with a growing ability to trust the Lord with expectations others might have of us, and lastly, for a clearer sense for the truth that you can be for a cause without that cause consuming you.
So, how many weeks then?
Ideally taking 4 weeks of vacation a year, if your schedule, finances or benefits package allows for it, can be such a healthy way to disconnect from work, and reconnect on deeper levels with our family, friends and souls.
It’s important not to be legalistic here, as our lives certainly ebb and flow. When our children were young I was able to take 2 weeks in the summer for vacation on a pretty consistent basis, in addition to other vacation times throughout the year. The last number of years it’s been harder to do that as our children have gotten older along with other realities that come and go.
Get Them on the Calendar!
But the thing is, vacations and retreats don’t happen unless we take time to schedule them. When it comes to retreats, it’s a good idea to actually schedule an extra one or two in the year, because it’s not uncommon that something might come up to take a retreat day away.
That’s why, I’m suggesting that over the Christmas break, that you take about 15 minutes in front of the calendar, perhaps with your spouse and kids around if that’s your scenario, to plan out your vacations and retreat days for the year. You’ve got so much more of a chance of actually pulling that off when you put it on the calendar.
The thing is life is certainly getting harder around us. In order to at least keep up with the growing challenges, we need to get better and better at honoring our limits, especially our time for renewal through vacations and retreats.
The Work Week
Of course it is important to over time get better and better at living at a sustainable place during our work weeks, which I hope to talk about more in the coming year, but unless there are times built in for renewal, it’s hard to figure out how to reconstruct our typical work week.
So please join me in this goal to craft our calendars in ways that make room for retreats and vacations in 2024.
Please feel free to email me at [email protected], if you actually do this. I hope to create maybe just a little momentum with at least a few people to be more disciplined around the discipline of renewal in 2024.
May God grant you a rich and meaningful Christmas season, and may He help you decide on the right habits to embrace for 2024, so that it’s more meaningful and fulfilling, for his glory, your good, and the life of the world.