“Are you going anywhere this summer?” We ask each other this question to know each other better. With school out, many students and families take time to travel and get away.
In August 2012, I had a tough time starting a family vacation to a wooded cabin near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. My wife packed everything we’d need for our small children, while I strained to get my mind off my work projects. If a customer heard I was going on vacation while they had a need, they would sometimes get upset. (Though I had five colleagues who were eager to help.)
I was a huge grump. Transitioning from billable-hours-Mark to at-ease-Mark was hard on everybody. Who wants to make banana boats with a guy still struggling to get into vacation mode?
Vacation should be easy, right? When we get away, we stop the daily grind of packing lunch, waiting at red lights, pushing to meet deadlines, and grading papers. But for many of us vacation can incredibly stressful. We’ve been pushing throughout the week nonstop to be responsible, productive, and keep up with our demands. Suddenly pausing that — and enjoying it! — can be a difficult burden. On top of that we have the shame of not enjoying an activity that I’m supposed to enjoy.
Is my work the problem?
Our jobs aren’t designed for vacation. The folks I know are not alone — Huffington Post reports that a quarter of Americans find vacation time stressful. Often this is because the vast majority of us are already stressed about work, and taking time off isn’t an easy option. Even if you’re blessed with a job that allows time off, work may pile up for us while we’re away. Some have to get ahead make up for the vacation before we even leave. And our employers and coworkers may resent our absences because of the additional strain it causes them.
Tip 1: Make Vacation Better for your Company and Coworkers. If you help run your business you know this is tough. But if you’re an employee, be patient with your managers and try to find ways to make everybody’s vacation easier. One Raleigh company with strong Christian influence, Bandwidth, goes to extreme measures to protect and defend their workers’ vacation. They have written rules against contacting your coworkers when they’re on vacation. Even if your company doesn’t have such rules you can try to support your coworkers in their time off.
We work to please people. This strain might help us see where we’re looking for acceptance and satisfaction. Do you work to primarily to stay out of trouble — avoid conflict and controversy? Colossians 3:22 advises everyone with a boss work “not only when their [the employer’s] eye is on you, and to curry their favor” (NIV). There’s a real risk that we are primarily trying to curry favor — get people to like us.
Tip 2: Identify your True Boss. We’re offered such a great alternative in Colossians 3:23-24 —
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
So you’ve got two options to work for:
- Favor — from your boss, your coworkers, your customers
- Inheritance — from the Lord Jesus
Work for Jesus, and you get much more than a happy boss.
We work to avoid trouble. You’re not going to make everybody happy — even if you’re doing everything right. So it’s not logical to only judge yourself by the standard of whether coworkers and customers are happy with you.
Tip 3: Endure the resentment and criticism mindful of God. Peter warns us to expect trouble — and lean on God when we’re criticized for doing good. In 1 Peter 2:18-20:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. . . . But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
In our context, a “master” might be a formal manager — or it could be our customers. They want the project done right now!
Going on vacation, getting rest, may be the right thing to do. Even when you’re doing the right thing you will be criticized. But it is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. Our reliance on God during this unjust accusation and abuse brings us grace — His love, his nearness.
Am I my own problem?
I’m more comfortable at home. Most of us have found ways to be a little bit comfortable: a minute in the morning; our favorite coffee; a good chair; a favorite show at night. And on vacation our personal comforts are disrupted: the kids wake up earlier than usual; all they have is tea; the chairs are all wet from sitting outside in the rain; Netflix doesn’t work at this hotel.
On vacation, I really hope I get to. Perhaps you’re going on vacation hoping to get time with a book, but then your family wants to go to the amusement park. All you hoped to do was take a nap — but you find yourself driving endlessly to reach somebody’s favorite restaurant.
I’d rather just stay and get this done. Or perhaps you’re going on vacation because vacation is what people do and you’ve got tons you’d like to do at home. You’d love to clean out the garage, or start a garden, or wash the car, or learn to code, or put together that project you bought.
In all these cases, vacation is just in the way of your comfort. I’ve definitely been there: while I like the idea of vacation, and the pleasantness of being with my family and seeing new sites, I really have a long to-do list I’d rather get through, and books I’d rather read. And book-reading is not a family activity. So I was resentful.
Isn’t rest laziness? God created us to work (Genesis 1-2) — so should we really be gaps from it? The principle of Sabbath given by God in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) focuses on six days of work and one mandatory day of vacation each week. But too few of us are willing to accept from God even one day of rest per week even though this pattern was created for us by God himself. John Piper writes:
The rhythm of work six, rest one, work six, rest one, work six, rest one would probably spare a lot of heart attacks and give longevity to many lives prematurely taken because they never unwind the spring. They always working. They are working at home and they are working at work and they are working in their play and they can’t stop working.
Tip 4: Spot the pride and agree it’s wrong. Pride is my problem. In the church, and in our families, in humility we should look for the interests of others.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
My to-do list? My reading list? Those are called “selfish ambition”.
My unwillingness to take any rest at all? This could be rejection of a gift God offers (James 1:17), reliance on my own strength instead of His (Colossians 1:29), and trusting my own wisdom ahead of His (Proverbs 3:5).
My resentment that the coffee isn’t good out the chairs are uncomfortable? That’s conceit. Jesus, my Messiah who is in me, calls me to humility — counting the interests of others more significant. And Christ enables me with His strength (1 Peter 4:11) to serve the weaker ones. (If you’re in charge of the vacation, everybody else following your plan are the weaker ones.)
Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.
Romans 15:1-3a (CSB)
For many parents, vacation doesn’t feel restful. Like all good things, Vacation is a gift from God (James 1:17), and I should fight to use is well. Vacation can sometimes include rest from certain labors, and rest is a gift from God. Not only is rest a gift — children are a gift!
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Psalm 127:2-3 (ESV)
Parents. We who are parents, during the short time they live with us, traveling with children is primarily not our vacation: we are taking our children on vacation. The way you handle vacation teaches them what you think of rest God provides, and what you think of the children.
It also instructs your children in how to use your spare time — what you value. If you want to teach your kids to love the outdoors, vacation gives you a chance to show them yourself outdoors. If you want to demonstrate that husbands and wives like to spend time with one another, then remember to seek out time with your spouse.
Finally, vacation creates moments for getting to know your children, and caring for them, that you won’t have elsewhere. You’ll see your kids enjoying different things they’ve never seen before, or have a few minutes just to have non-programmed fun with no digital screens involved. Those moments are gifts to your and your children to enjoy and to show love to one another.
Adults.If you’re an adult traveling with friends, Vacation can give you rare opportunities for conversation with others, and moments for reflection. (Romans 5:15) For spouses, we have the opportunity to understand each other in new ways and contexts (1 Peter 3:7).
Children. If you’re a child family, vacation is gifted to you, provided by God through your parents. The family needs your help to be fun to everybody; find things to be thankful for, even if they’re not the things you hoped to do.
Tip 5: Pray for your vacation. God can use vacation to show you your pride, cause you to lean on Himself, to grow your bonds with your family, and sometimes to give you rest. Pray for God to make these things happen. If you can’t presume to make profit in your work (James 4:13-15), then you definitely cannot presume that going on vacation will bring you relaxation and happiness. Ask God to prepare your heart and bring you these blessings.
God used that August 2012 trip to Blowing Rock to help me tremendously. My children were a gift, and while my kids were small, they took naps. During their naps, God taught me through the book Desiring God (Piper) [Free Ebook]. He woke me up to the problem of pride, of my priorities; that I was demanding too much of my vacation and my career. I know God used the vacation to help me value Him more, and better evaluate my work, and family, and hobbies and — yes, my vacation.
Nowadays I prepare for vacation differently. I plan ahead at work to cooperate with my coworkers. With God’s help, I fight the temptations of my personal aspirations for vacation. I know I’m naturally tempted to pride and conceit, which shows up as grumpiness. But I believe vacations are gifts; that time with family is a blessing; that willingness stop producing can help me start trusting.
- Chad Thornhill, Liberty University: A Theology of Vacations
- Matt Meyer: Intervarsity: Thou Shalt Take a Vacation.
- Matt Ritchel, New York Times: Vacation Sabotage: Don’t Let It Happen to You!
Thanks to Jerry Lassetter for the initial inspiration for this piece.