The pressure of a good day off

I don’t know what other minister’s setups look like. In mine, I have a 6-day contract with one day per week off. Unless there is a specific reason it has to move, for me, my day off is generally Monday. I know others would make a specific case against Monday, and there are good reasons to take it on another day, but it generally works for me and my family at this particular point in time. But my purpose in writing this isn’t to talk about the merits of the particular day you happen to choose.

I just wanted to reflect on one of the issues that arose with the single day off. I am not particularly concerned about having one, rather than two, days off. Though my wife, at least initially, found the inability to go away and see family over weekends a trial, this is not an insurmountable issue (family are still capable of coming to visit us) and I am happy enough to count it as a pretty small aspect of the sacrifice for ministry. But these aren’t really the issue of concern.

The issue is the pressure to have a decent day off. When your rest for the week centres on a single day, there often feels like a pressure to make it a good rest. But I find it decidedly unconducive to rest to be told that I must make every effort not to slip into any work. My wife, not usually a pharisee-type, suddenly becomes a veritable Nicodemus on a Monday. No doubt, in a laudable bid to protect me from overwork, all of sudden a very definite line is drawn between work and rest. All work remains unlawful on the Sabbath.

The problem is several-fold. First, there is the fact that there is not a clear dividing line between my home-life and work-life. There may be some things we can define clearly as work – sermons preparation, for example – but much can’t be delineated that way. When does chatting with my friends turn into pastoral support? I am essentially paid to pray and read the Bible; is this now work or not? And then there is this blog. Am I working or, given I was writing it well before I was appointed as a minister, is it still that thing I did on the side because I enjoyed it? My wife, of course, would love a Christian version of the Gemara at this point.

I, on the other hand, find it distinctly unrestful to be told to continually check myself and make sure I am resting properly. It actually works against the very purpose of the day off. For me, rest does not consist of doing nothing and nor does it come through focusing on all the thorny issues of church life. Instead, I find most restful something that occupies my mind enough that I have to concentrate on it a bit but not so much that I must pour over it. Blogging fits the bill quite nicely, as does playing the guitar (particularly learning something new) and going out somewhere to do something specific. Interestingly, long walks in the countryside tend to lead to ruminations on how to resolve the problems that need addressing in the week. Much more banal, but purposeful, trips to the supermarket or something of that order tend to be more conducive to my rest. But that is just me and I (not my wife on this issue, of course) am not a legalist.

The issue here is the pressure to have a good day off. Perverse as it may sound, I find there is a pressure to make my day off a good one that makes it inherently unrestful. That is, it should be restful for me and good for us as a family together. Those two things, however, are not necessarily comfortable bedfellows. What makes for a nice time for us as a family – the sort of things that will please my pre-school children and my wife who, at least half the week, has to look after them – are often not the kind of things I would find restful. This is where both my wife and I find ourselves laden with a bag of personal contradictions.

On the one hand, my wife wishes to protect my day off on the basis that I need to have a proper rest. On the other, she is most annoyed if I am not raring to do all the sort of stuff that would help her with the children and/or that the children might enjoy were we to do them together. I, by contrast, don’t want to be legalistic about my work/life balance and find it more restful to simply permit myself to do the kind of things that enable rest. Nevertheless, if I am to be rested, I don’t always want to do the stuff that would make for a beautiful family album that we can enjoy in years to come because – much as I love my kids – there is no denying that they can sometimes be hard work; apparently the very thing we all agree I am to avoid on my day off.

Of course, these things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Much of the time, spending time with my family is, indeed, restful. But, with all the will in the world, not always. In my less selfish moments, one puts aside ones desire to rest in the specific way that feels best at any given moment. But this feels like a specific pressure associated with a single day off. Two days gives the ability to do both. The first, grants an opportunity to be with the family doing all the stuff you’d expect while the second lends itself to the other kind of rest-activity that perhaps isn’t necessarily best enjoyed in a team.

The point here is that we need to relieve the pressure on a single day. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to adopt a two-day weekend. It simply means we need to relieve the pressure to make the day restful which, of itself, adds pressure that stops us resting.