So you’re off for Christmas, but some of you for sure are going to have a hard time winding down.

I know I do.

Being a driven kind of person, the idea of doing nothing but resting is unsettling for me.

But rather than secretly doing email while your family isn’t looking, pacing the house because you can’t sit still or being agitated most of the time, there is an alternative.

how to relax on a holiday

If You Don’t Take the Sabbath

Even driven people need to understand how important rest is. And we always tend to brush that aside.

Sabbath is God’s idea. And, as I wrote about hereif you don’t take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take you.

And the consequences of not resting are high. 7 years ago I burned out. It was a long journey back. (If you’re interested, here’s my story and 12 keys to my recovering from burnout.)

I know people who can just take time off easily…who don’t worry, are never tempted to check email, easily shut down social media for a week, and who find a hammock easily. I’m just not one of them. And if you’ve read this far, chances are you aren’t either.

The challenge isn’t knowing what to do. That’s easy—power down, don’t check email, go offline and just relax…anyone can figure that out. The challenge is being able to do it.

That’s what wrecks driven people.

5 Ways to Relax (That Work)

So over the years I’ve developed these 5 vacation rules that, if observed, make shutting off all the devices and truly taking a break easier.

The first three help you prepare before you take a vacation. The final two work any time—even in the middle of a vacation that’s challenging you.

So in the name of helping you enjoy the time God has given you, here they are:

1. Prepare for your vacation, don’t just take it. I used to run into my holidays full speed, and it would take me half my holidays to unwind.  Take some time before your holiday to prepare for your holiday. Use your evenings to rest up before you leave. Pack ahead of time. And build the anticipation.  When I do this, I can go into day one vacation fully rested and ready to enjoy.

2. Equip your team, and yourself, for your break. Leaving work behind is hard work.  I wasn’t good at this for years.  Now I spend at least two weeks before leaving asking “what does my team need while I’m away so they can run optimally and so I can rest?”  If all of that is lined up, then they have way they need and I can get what I need: peace of mind, knowing everything will be okay. When everything shuts down (which is pretty much only at Christmas these days) it’s not as important to do this (or follow rule 3 below). But when you’re are taking a break and everyone else is still working, these steps are essential.

3.  Delegate authority and responsibility. While this is good practice all the time, make sure you leave behind real decisions, real authority and real responsibility.  My team can call the shots while I’m away. My assistant handles my email for my entire vacation.  If you don’t have an assistant, use an autoresponder and plan to spend your first or second day back sorting through email. If you plan for it, you won’t worry about it while away.

4.  Find out what fuels you. I have friends who love to vacation at bed and breakfasts, chat with the locals and make new friends during their holiday. For me, that would be the opposite of vacation.  My ideal vacation is where I go somewhere with my family,  know no one else and don’t need to talk to anyone who might know me.  I suppose it’s a way to refuel for living in a world where so many people know me and I get stopped for conversation virtually everywhere I go (happens to a lot of us in ministry). I also know it’s important for me to be in an environment that refuels me.  We’ve worked it through as a family to the point where when we do the kind of vacation we’re currently doing, everyone comes back rested and recharged, ready to go.

5. Pick a goal for your holidays. My drivenness can make me feel like I waste time while away. Obviously, one of my goals is to spent meaningful time with my family and I also have vacation time as time to connect with God.  But I’ve learned if I pick some goals for my holidays, it makes me feel better and enjoy my time alone and with my family more. Your goal can be as simple as reading a few books, taking some pictures, or even a fitness goal (we’re going snowshoeing almost every day…it’s more of a workout than you think). I feel less restless and more rested if I set a few goals.

How about you?  What vacation rules do you have?  Or do you just unplug and think us A types are crazy?


  1. Dan Black on December 28, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    I’ve found turning off and making sure electrical devices are key when it comes to unplugging. Great tips here.

  2. Links I Like | on December 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm

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  3. John Black on December 26, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Thank you for this post. After years of not being able to relax while on vacation, my coach helped me understand the importance of vacation preparation.
    Preparing my staff, my congregation and myself for the time off makes all the difference in the world. My staff feels more comfortable, my congregation knows things will be taken care of, and my brain can let it all go.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 26, 2013 at 9:37 am

      So glad to hear that John. Same deal for me. It took me years to figure this out too.

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