Three great rules for vacation
Summer has arrived and our hearts are ready to play, relax, and enjoy some time off. As the crowning jewel of all this summer fun is vacation time, it will either be a wonderful memory or a little trip to hell (or at least purgatory). I have experienced both. Last summer, it was two glorious weeks in France with good friends. A few years ago, it was sharing a small beach house with 23 relatives. What makes all the difference is preparation, expectation, and anticipation. We should pack our bags mentally, spiritually, and physically. I offer a few suggestions to ensure that you come home restored and full of great memories.
Take God on vacation with you. That means that you assume a certain attitude that this will be a timeout with God, a pilgrimage of sorts. Every timeout should have the quality of a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are journeys with God or to God. In earlier times, we would go to a sacred place to encounter God. In our age, we have come to see that we can find God wherever we are. The sunrise on the ocean, the dark, sacred night at a mountain chalet, resting at a southwestern desert butte. God joins us whenever we call Him. When we expect that we will meet God during our journey, we start to look for Him. The sunrise and sunset, the walk in a garden, the conversation with a stranger at a diner, etc. When we have this attitude of expecting God to show up, our experience of even the most tedious vacation event becomes something new.
Next, I recommend finding lots of time to do nothing. Don’t plan away every precious moment. Allow spontaneity and a little serendipity to reign. Vacation is meant to be a time to restore our minds, bodies, and souls. All too often, we come home exhausted from the hectic pace of morning-to-night activity. Great vacations have balance. When we honor the time-tested Benedictine components of rest, play, work, and prayer, revival happens. Good long sleep, ice cream for breakfast, and even dancing until dawn are the order of the day. What is important is that we shake up the familiar routines of daily life with something entirely new. It is the change of scenery and the change of pace that heals the work-weary soul.
This next directive is the most difficult for those of us who live in that fast, competitive, and greedy secular world: we need to let go of time and unplug ourselves from the rat race. First, promise to put away the clock while you are away. In fact, I recommend not looking at any time device. Live in God’s time (kairos). That means living and savoring each moment without concern for our schedule or other’s expectations of our time. Allow God’s expectations to overrule your watch for this vacation. It might mean building a sandcastle with a five year old instead of running an errand, finishing that novel and missing lunch, or asking your beloved to take just you out for a romantic evening. Let the Shepherd point the way regardless of earthly time.
The “unplug” directive is even more difficult than taking off your watch. If we really want to cleanse our spirits of all the busy ways of work and friends, we need to put away our cell phones, Facebook messages, and e-mails. We have become addicted to staying connected and informed. Many of our Jewish friends unplug every Sabbath. They have realized that all the electronic interruptions distract them from the peace that God brings to their lives. So, on their sacred day, iPods, iPads, cell phones, etc. are unplugged until sunset. I guarantee that the 48 hours will be difficult. After all, we are missing the work instructions, the pictures of our friend’s babies, cats, and latest recipes. However, as soon as we complete withdrawal, a marvelous peace settles in. We can actually hear the sounds of nature and even that small wee voice of God within. We can be fully present to the moment and even savor it. All the distractions of the world we left behind have disappeared. It is a grace beyond measure.
So, my fellow travelers, as we head to the beaches, the mountains, the great forests and deserts, do these four things: take God with you, celebrate spontaneity, throw away earthly time, and unplug. You won’t regret it. I can’t wait to hear your stories and share your memories. They are more precious than gold.
This Catholic Thoughts column originally appeared in the July 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.