It’s not lost on me that halfway through the height of the vacation season, I’m finally writing on vacations. Posts of this nature should certainly appear when the summer begins. Nevertheless (to use a good King James Bible word)… how can we think biblically about this subject?
In the church world at large, you hear about the supposed “summertime slump” during which outreach and ministry are pretty much put on hold while giving plummets and pastors just hang on and wish for the fall because they can’t really do anything for God during the summer months. I’ve never subscribed to that thinking. We just finished a revival meeting right smack in the middle the record breaking heat of a Tucson summer.
And, you know what? As a church we don’t believe that Christians need time off from serving God’s purpose at any time of year. Seasons come and seasons go, but God is always first and God is always worth it.
This is not to say that vacations are not of God; it was God’s idea that man should have regular times of rest. This point is missed by those who accrue days and weeks of vacation that sit and languish, unused. “I haven’t taken a vacation in nearly six years,” they state with a detectable aroma of pride, as if such meritorious conduct deserves a medal.
Consider the fact that a Chicago resident may need to go bask in the Florida warmth to escape the bone-chilling cold. Families may realize they have just a few short years to create bonding memories together. Couples may need a bit of time to themselves, away from the kids and other responsibilities. How often do we say Man, I need a vacation! But we may also come home from a vacation more worn out than before we left, saying Man, I need a vacation from my vacation!
I’m certainly not a Conde Nast-type traveler, but I’m fairly certain that the anticipation and planning that goes into a vacation is something that most of us enjoy. So here is my suggestion: Vacations can be a genuine and needed time of refreshment. But beyond that, real spiritual goals can and should be part of a family’s vacation plans. To achieve both will require planning and forethought. It won’t happen by accident, but by design.
So, how should we bring our faith to bear upon what is for so many of us a yearly pilgrimage? How can we craft our designer vacation?
On my first trip to Australia, I discovered a place whose countryside and people I thoroughly enjoy. But I remember my genuine surprise when I heard that most Australian workers get at least four paid weeks of vacation time each year plus ten days of public holiday. Along with this, they also receive personal days, family days, mental health days, maternity and paternity leave, and moving days. To an American, this seems like a staggering amount of time off.
By way of comparison, let’s consider that after ten years of service on the job, the average German gets 35 days of paid vacation. The English get 28 days and the Finns get 30. A worker in France averages 37 days, and in Brazil the average is 34. In Japan, 25 days are set aside. If you happen to live and work in Italy, you can rack up 42 days. Among the developed countries, America comes in last, with the average worker accruing 13 vacation days per year.
The vigor of these economies may be another matter, but let’s drill down in this one area. It may be that many Americans suffer deprivation that they don’t even know about. The upside to all this work is a healthy growth in U.S. productivity, which potentially helps business increase profit and raise wages. But the downsides can’t be ignored, either.
What triggered my thoughts on this topic was Ruth Bell Graham’s philosophy regarding vacations. She noted that some people who race off to escape the pressure usually fly back exhausted. This kind of vacation is similar to the sentiment in Psalm 55:6-7: "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest — I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm." The strength of a dove’s wings doesn’t supply you with the rest you need or desire. Some vacationers flap off to pursue the fantasy of the ultimate getaway, but you won’t discover the “ultimate” this side of heaven, deep pockets notwithstanding. Now contrast that to the kind of break that includes rest and waiting on the Lord, as in Isaiah 40:31: “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Which is more refreshing, dove’s wings or eagle’s wings? You decide.
Others equate time off with carnality. Vacation? Rest? What a selfish proposition! How could Christians (and most especially, pastors) think of taking a break when so many people are still lost without the Gospel? Not to mention the pressing needs inside the church! What kind of person would put their own relaxation before the need to labor for the salvation and sanctification of eternal souls? I’d rather burn out for Jesus than rust out.
But have you considered that there may be another alternative? How about being able to give out?
Of course, I’m not talking about running off and shirking your God-given responsibilities, but rather about a break that provides renewed energy for the task at hand. In some churches I’ve heard of, you must get the pastor’s permission before you can consider taking any time off. But if someone tells me they’re going on vacation, I tell them, “Have an excellent time; I’ll see you when you get back, refreshed and ready.”
The ministry seems to attract two polar opposites: the lazy and the workaholic. One suffers from a lack of diligence; the other from a warped perspective. Workaholics can be found in the ministry because overwork is interpreted as a holy dedication. But burnout is real. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that in 16 of 22 studies, working overtime was associated with poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, and increased mortality. The June 2008 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine cited a recent study which sampled 10,000 people and found higher levels of anxiety and depression in those who put in the most overtime. As for the effects on those close to us, 52% of employees reported that their job demands interfered with their family or home responsibilities, according to a 2007 study by the American Psychological Association.
I remember the old tune, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, in the summertime... I won’t belabor you with other lyrics, but they generally advocate indulgence and vacations as partners. Then you have Thomas Rhett’s lyrics, Singing hey, let’s party like we on vacation. Hey, let’s party like we on vacation. I got my toes up in the sand, Cold one in my hand, Toes up in the sand, Cold one in my hand. Singing hey, let’s party like we on vacation… so I guess vacations are all about consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Hmm… There must be another option that offers a little bit more wisdom about vacations than the various pop music songs.
One of the great blessings in my life is to see folks who use their vacation time to come to Bible conference. They enjoy a time of spiritual renewal, and many of them couple this with the opportunity to serve our guests who travel to Tucson from around the world. Either way, they’re making an important investment. One of my Australian friends wrote to me: “Just as an aside, and as an enormous endorsement to American Fellowship Christians, even with six weeks of paid vacation time per year, some Australians - even Potter’s House Christians - still find it hard to devote one week per year to Conference. That’s a huge accolade to you guys.”
Ruth Bell Graham said that she tried to design vacations for herself and her husband that resulted in their returning spiritually and physically refreshed, ready for the next assignment.
Whether you are caring for a compound bow or a violin bow, the string(s) need to be loosened regularly in order to preserve the instrument and have it function at optimal levels. How do we go about achieving this in our Christian lives? The best vacations are those where we plan for complete renewal: body, soul, mind, and spirit. Essential to this would be maintaining a rationale for rest; or, better: a theology for rest; one that includes God. The God who created the world in six days rested on the seventh. Thus, He established a rhythm from the beginning, modeled by God Himself: work followed by rest, production followed by restoration. God blessed the Sabbath and called it holy. Jesus reminded us that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” It’s that principle of rhythm that should heavily influence our planned vacation times.
Even Jesus said to His disciples, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile because there were so many people coming and going that they didn't even have time to eat. So, Mark 6:31 tells us that they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. On this particular occasion, their vacation plans were interrupted by the people who got wind of where they were headed and showed up there for more ministry.
It amazes me how often God speaks to me during those times that I manage to break away, showing me ruts in my life that need repair. The Holy Spirit inspires me about the church, giving me new strategies and directions – especially when I have time away from the normal routines. My mind and spirit seem more open to receive and to be revived.
This is why you should carefully plan, pray, and anticipate these special times. Along with visiting places, sight-seeing, family visits, good restaurants… I would encourage you to take time for your soul renewal. Read a book. Begin a devotional. Take time to meditate or start a journal about what God is saying to you or about improvements that can be made. Take walks with your wife or with each of your kids. Design it. I’ve always found that planning to come home two or three days early in order to debrief and then get ready to put your hand firmly back on the plow is always a good idea.
The difference in a family vacation lies in the father’s attitude and leadership. C.J. Mahaney said: “Family vacations provide a unique opportunity each year for fathers to create memories their children will never forget. Memories that will last a lifetime. Memories that will be created by your children with your grandchildren. Memories that will outlive a father. But in order to create these memories, a father must be diligent to serve and lead during a vacation. How a father views his role on a vacation will make all the difference in that special time.” I fully believe that our Heavenly Father wants to pour out on us the riches on His grace as we’ll love and serve Him with all of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength.
Everyone is different, I know. Everyone will make different plans. But the secret to an unforgettable vacation is not the location or the amusements or the attractions. It is in recognizing this privilege: I get to serve God’s purpose through my vacation time.