Vacation…what an multi-faceted word. In one sense it means a break from the daily grind of life for a time and enter another world, in search of rest and rejuvenation. In another sense it means adventure, where we go out from our homes to a new place and explore the amazing things God created on the earth, in search of excitement. In yet another sense it means an inward discovery of oneself no matter where geographically a person finds oneself, in search of balance amidst the roller-coaster of life. This kind of experience is crucial to any well-balanced life, even in the priesthood, and so in May I took the opportunity to do just that: I took a vacation. Not a vacation from my vocation (as is often warned against; not a vacation from reality), but I went on a genuine vacation where I discovered God’s grace in my life in much deeper ways than I could have ever expected all the while being true to the man and priest God created me to be.
One of my closest friends, Jonathan, and I had been planning on this trip together since January. We decided to spend a week in Vancouver, BC in Canada with the specific intention of not planning anything and take things completely day by day (we, naturally, planned airline tickets, hotel, and rental car beforehand, but nothing else). The goal was to put ourselves in a place where we didn’t feel the need to rush off to “the next thing” and, as a result, never stop to relax. I found all I have ever known of vacations from my childhood to the present is the constant rush of “doing”, running off to the next tourist attraction or off to see the next relative to visit. Now these experiences are very good things and I am thankful for them, but I realized in my many vacations throughout life I had never experienced one where I truly learned how to relax, and how to to just sit alone in quiet with the Lord and relish that stillness; instead I was always prompted to go off to the next attraction in some sort of grand road trip, which always left me drained after a vacation and wasn’t ever truly rejuvenating as I always imaged it would. So Jonathan and I purposely had no plans except arrival and departure in Vancouver in order to facilitate a stillness with each other and with the Lord.
The first day in Vancouver I noticed I was anxious interiorly, I wasn’t able to relax and was feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing anything “productive” (which is also a major push in our society, to have worth is to be productive and so those who aren’t are diminished in importance: the mentally disabled, the elderly, etc.). I was struggling to relax and let go of the notion that I had to be productive all the time. Jonathan, on the other hand, is much more adept at working hard and relaxing well, and so he was, in a sense, teaching me how to relax by his witness. I was struggling to feel okay doing nothing (which was the whole point of the vacation, and ultimately what God wanted me to do, rest in Him), and didn’t know how to deal with it. It was suggested that we hit up the hotel gym to workout and then the sauna and hot tub. I had brought my running clothes to keep up running and agreed. I jumped on the treadmill and Jonathan hit up his workout routine and I experienced something profound. After running, I felt mentally freed. I had on some mental level, done something “productive” and afterward my mind finally allowed me to relax. We sat in the sauna and hot tub as an after workout cool-down and I marveled at how I was able to sit in the sauna with Jonathan and not have a care in the world. Everything exterior faded away and I sat amidst my own thoughts and the Lord and felt content.
As the days progressed Jonathan and I fell into a routine, drawing on what I had just experienced. We would wake up in the morning without an alarm, make some coffee (Nespresso), and pray Morning Prayer together, and then leisurely find a hip breakfast place to eat at (The Twisted Fork bistro was our favorite, they offered a bottomless French Press for coffee!). The middle of the day was usually spent exploring the city or area somehow, ending up back at the hotel (or central park) to run and workout with the pool/sauna cooldown as a great way to relax. We would celebrate Mass together in the late afternoon each day and then find a cool place to grab supper (Seasons in the Park was my favorite, we had a gorgeous view of the city at sunset). The routine was great because gave us a sense of stability even on vacation, each day felt structured, at least a little bit, but also allowed for the vast amount of exploring we did and the relaxing we experienced together with the Lord.
This vacation occurred roughly one year after my priestly ordination (May 20, 2016) and while this past year has been full of God’s many blessings and graces, it has also been an incredibly challenging and difficult year. St. Stephens Indian Mission has been grace-filled, but also really tough as a newly ordained priest. As I’ve been trying to figure out how to be me as a priest and trying to figure out how to be a priest specifically here at St. Stephens, I have been subconsciously believing that who I am (my personality, my gifts, my talents, my quirks) wasn’t good enough to be able to minister well at the Mission and be successful in forming relationships here within the community and so I would end up entirely friendless and a failure. As such, I have been subconsciously trying to be the person I thought would be able to do these things well: not me. This is not true, of course, but even so I was not loving myself authentically as God created me to be; I was trying to be someone else. This has caused a great amount of tension in me as I wasn’t loving myself as God loved me. This vacation in Vancouver gave me an experience of the freedom of being authentically me once again and loving it. This was the biggest grace of the whole vacation. I was a priest (I celebrated daily Mass and even gave a bit of spiritual advice to an Irish woman who discovered I am a priest), I was a geek (I ran a virtual 5K race based on Star Wars and also found a building that was filmed as part of the TV show, The Flash), and I was authentically me, Father Andrew Kinstetter. I was with Jonathan who loved and affirmed the goodness in me entirely and helped me to see it, again, in myself.
It is this truth that I am, most of all, desiring to bring back to St. Stephens and live out daily. I am called to be nobody but me, in fact that’s why God created me! This is perhaps the biggest challenge each and every human person has to struggle with, it is not unique to me, of course. I pray that I can live out of that truth and inspire others to see the inherent goodness in themselves too and experience it. God calls each of us to do great things in this world, just as we are, not in competition of each other or in contradiction with one another, but all together we act as one Body of Christ for the Greater Glory of God. The hand should not try to be the eye, or vice versa, and yet we, in our humanity, attempt this all the time. Trying to be anybody but ourselves is a denial of the goodness that God placed inside us. As this vacation helped me to once again see this truth, I hope to inspire others to see it too, and live out of it. God doesn’t make junk, each one of us is one of His original masterpieces, wholly unique and wholly good as He designed. I am, again, reminded of St. Francis de Sales who said, “Be who you are and be that well.”