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The Spirituality of Taking a Vacation

We just returned from a trip to Nova Scotia, and I realized something important about vacations: you cannot arrive at relaxation until you leave behind your normal routine. In other words, changing your geography changes your attitude, outlook, and even your emotions.

So why is that?

For starters, to leave behind the place where your normal routine takes place is to leave behind the demands, expectations and responsibilities that go along with that place. One might argue that you don’t need to get away in order to relax, and there is some truth in that argument. But, when you try to relax at home, you are surrounded by reminders of things that need to be done. Years ago, trying to have a quiet time at home, I discovered this with a vengeance. As soon as I “relaxed,” I noticed dust bunnies I never noticed before. Casually looking out the window, I noticed the lawn getting shaggy and needed to be mowed. I noticed the house plants getting droopy and needing water. Then I began to think of people I should call or email, while led into thoughts of upcoming appointments and commitments. I was completely surrounded by reminders of things I needed to do. Not only that, I felt the urge to act on all those reminders. At that point, relaxing became such an effort that it was more relaxing to get up and get busy!

That is why going away matters. In the case of our Nova Scotia trip, we took the CAT ferry from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, a five and a half hour ocean voyage. I brought along my camera, binoculars, and reading matter. However, I was rather astonished at how quickly I arrived at a state of semi-comatose bliss simply staring out the window and watching the ever-moving ocean and the occasional fishing boat. I did do some reading, and I did take a few pictures, but mainly, I stared out the window. The wonderful thing was, even if there was something I needed to do, I couldn’t do it. If there was someone I needed to talk to, I couldn’t. I had left my life behind. (And besides, my cell wouldn’t work in Canada.)

For the next ten days, I didn’t once think of what needed to be done back home or back at the church. There was no point; I couldn’t do anything about it. I was too far away. Instead, I was taken up by our new surroundings–Shelburne and Lunenberg, Peggy’s Cove, Cape George, the Ceilidh Trail, the Cabot Trail, Bras d’Or, Grand Pre, and, finally, Digby. (By the way, if you think you know how to pronounce “Ceilidh,” think again!) It was as though “real life” was emptied out of me, and another, restful and joyful life was pumped into me.

The point is, moving your body geographically from where it always is to some place different affects your whole life. If you’ve moved your body from Connecticut to Maine for a couple weeks, it makes no sense at all to worry about mowing the lawn in Connecticut; there’s nothing you can do about it. All the Connecticut people whom you think can’t survive without you will muddle through just fine. (Vacations undercut our sense of self-importance in this way.) The church committees will do their business without you, and will do just fine. Worship will be led, sermons will be preached, and you will be completely out of it.

Vacations, of course, come to end. (If they didn’t, they’d only be the next chapter of “real life.”) But, the great thing about vacations is, you get tired of them after awhile and want to go back to your “real life.” A ten day car trip in Nova Scotia left us happy but tired, and ready to head home (and not drive anywhere for awhile). I’ve noticed that all our vacations are like that. For many years, we spent two weeks on Keyes Pond in Maine’s Lakes District. It was heaven, but, by the end of the two weeks, we had enough of swimming, hiking and lounging around and were ready to head home, rested and happy.

And always, home and “real life” looked and felt better on our return than they did before the vacation! Somehow, vacations enable us to re-enter “real life” and do what we need to do in a way that seems to require less effort. Life’s demands feel less demanding and life’s pains feel a little less painful.

So, all this is to say, use your vacation time! If you don’t have money for a cruise, borrow a tent and look for a pretty campground several hours away. Or, maybe something like this might be possible: while in Connecticut, we lived in a beautiful, rural part of the Litchfield Hills. For years, while we were away on vacation in Maine, pastor friends of ours, serving inner city churches, used our home for their vacation while we were away. (One of the couples who stayed at our place we never met face to face!) It may take some planning and creativity, but getting away is worth it!

Of course, for pastors, there are places like Forest Haven.

Finally, make this a matter of prayer. God knows our need for getting away. He was, after all, the One who rested on the seventh day of creation. If finances are an issue, take it up with the Lord. God is generous, usually through His people. Our Nova Scotia trip was partially made possible by the kind generosity of a brother in Christ. Our first two vacations in Maine were the anonymous (at the time) gift of my prayer partner.

It may not seem “spiritual” to pray for a vacation. But, our many visits to Maine were often as much a spiritual retreat as they were a family vacation, so think of your vacation as a yearly Sabbath. Remember James’ words: “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).

[Note: A while back, we posted a link to an article on the Forest Haven Facebook page on why pastors need vacations (“Three Reasons Pastors Should Use All Their Vacation Time”). You may want to look at it, or, maybe, send it to a pastor you know!]

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