I write this from the solace of Bethany, my personal “Bethany,” that is.
Our pastoral district is more than a six hour drive away from here, and I’m truly resting for the first time in weeks. My wife, children, and I have taken a short vacation over a long weekend and are staying in the home of a Christian family—long-time friends. They have opened their home to us, annually, for several years as a pastoral retreat. Because he is an elder in his church and she is a pastor’s daughter, they understand well our needs.
During Jesus’ ministry across the Judean countryside, He found lodging in the town of Bethany with Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus.1 There was a special connection between them.
When Lazarus was sick, the message came to Jesus from Bethany reporting, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” The closeness of this relationship is evidenced further by His raising Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus depended on the willing hospitality of His followers as He traveled, and in Bethany Jesus found open hearts and a warm hearth. Here, Jesus could escape the clamoring multitudes, the constant testing of His enemies, even the worldly ambitions of His followers who wished to crown Him as their earthly King.2
If Jesus needed time away, then so must those who have taken Jesus’ yoke upon themselves. Ministers today must follow the path of the Master, even when it leads to breaks in the action, to moments of peace in the storm, to resting instead of running.
Tangible benefits In over ten years of pastoral ministry, I’ve rarely found any times to be really convenient for vacations. But not taking vacation has been detrimental to my family, to me, and to my ministry. Being here in “Bethany,” however, has uncovered the most wonderful gold mine of benefits. Here are a just a few:
Because our host-home is a considerable distance away in the best of Alaskan driving weather, my family has time to connect during the road trip. There are moose, caribou, and eagles to watch for, songs to sing together, worships to enjoy, and stories to tell the kids. We share with each other in much-needed ways, while creating some wonderful memories.
Putting space (350 miles, in this case) between me and my home city gives me a larger vision for the challenges awaiting my return. Some challenges, which seemed unanswerable while immersed in them, now appear clearer as I step outside them for a few days.
At home, the telephone is a tool for connecting with people, yet the ring often signals more demands on a pastor’s time. But here, with our friends, the telephone ceases to dictate my days. Few people in my district know where I am; only the elders and conference secretary have the phone number (for emergencies only!). Several days without a phone call do wonders for this pastor’s sanity and the willingness to receive them when I return home.
I find physical rest and health here as well. The agenda for each day consists of whatever we choose. Nothing else. Though we spend time enjoying the outdoors with our hosts—cross country skiing in winter; or canoeing, hiking, and biking in summer—the energy expenditure isn’t draining. Rather, with so few expectations, the adventures refresh and rejuvenate us. In addition, the meals are healthy, mouthwatering, and plentiful. We arrive home healthier and more rested than when we left.
Finally, I find that, in ministering to us, our host family receives a blessing. They feel that caring for us helps spread the gospel more effectively in areas they cannot go themselves.
Our time together always seems to enrich both of our families as we share our trials and faith and encourage each other. What a model of the body of Christ in action this family has been to us!
No doubt, you could add more, but these are real gifts of healing to me, mentally, spiritually, and physically.
Finding your Bethany
Was I simply fortunate to fi nd such caring friends and a place of retreat? After all, not every minister has such options. That’s true, but with a few minutes of time and research, you can probably discover your own personal Bethany.
First, try to locate a place to which you can get away—a place that is a substantial distance from your district and where your family can stay for several nights. Some may give clergy discounts, and perhaps you’ll find a Christian proprietor who can be sensitive to your needs.
Another option would be to call the pastor of another district, perhaps outside your conference. Explain what you’re looking for, and ask what possibilities he suggests. It may open up an opportunity for each of you to minister to other’s families in turn!
If a neighboring conference has a year-round staffed camp, perhaps it could serve as your personal Bethany. The key here is to find a place that is comfortable and far enough away to feel at rest.
However you do it, if Jesus needed His own Bethany, be sure that you do, too.
1 See Luke 10:38–42 and John 11. Jesus possibly lodged in their home on other occasions, such as Matthew 21:17. It was also in Bethany that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus in the home of Simon the leper (cf. Matthew 26:6–13 and Mark 14:3).
2 Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, (Mountain View, CA: Pacifi c Press Publishing Association, 1940), 524.