Having come home from a vacation in England two days ago, I write with a bit of jet lag tingling in my fingers. Lisa and I were, as the Brits say, on holiday. Why England? Great walking. We walked (they don’t hike in England) over 180 miles, stayed in quaint villages, felt a few drops of rain, and ate fish and chips. Presently we are letting the blisters heal and purging our systems of all things cholesterol. I know what some of you who are reading this are thinking: Walking 180 miles!!! You call that a vacation!!!???
Vacation. Have you ever pondered the existence of vacations? Clearly they are a part of our culture, an expectation as sure as turkey at Thanksgiving. Recent studies have consistently shown that young people entering the workforce are as concerned about their employer’s vacation policy as they are about the prospective income. The vacation industry has grown into a multibillion-dollar affair. The fact that Groupon, VRBO, Airbnb, and package deals have all entered our lexicon testifies to our hunger for vacations. This is good. This is one area where our culture gets it right—or at least partly right.
As you read this, perhaps you are preparing for your summer vacation. I hope so. And I hope your vacation is spectacular. But in case you are wrestling with the expense of your summer vacation in terms of time as well as money, consider what I am calling a brief theology of vacation.
First, a good vacation rests on our work. Without our hard work a vacation is impossible. We are told in the pages of the Bible that though all work is tainted by the sin of Adam, our work is both necessary for human flourishing and redemptive for our own personhood. In fact, our work is to be done to the glory of God and with all our might (see 1 Corinthians 15:58). Novelist Dorothy Sayers puts it strongly:
What is the Christian understanding of work?… [It] is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties… the medium in which he offers himself to God.
It is only when we have worked hard that a vacation can be all that God intends it to be. We are, by design, made to work and then to rest.
Second, vacations are mandatory. Vacations are not an option; they are divinely ordained by God. Have you ever noticed, we were designed to take a vacation every day? In fact, God made us in such a way that we must take a vacation every day. That vacation is called sleep. Without sleep, all productivity ceases. Without sleep, work becomes impossible. Not only has God ordained a daily vacation, but God commands that we set aside one day a week for rest, for vacation. On one day in seven we are commanded, not invited, to say to our work, I have a God who is more important than you. I trust in Him for my provision, and not in you! We err when we understand the Bible’s command to observe a Sabbath day of rest as an invitation to drudgery. Joy Davidman points out, No one thought of it as the renunciation of pleasure; it was every man’s pleasure and supreme delight.
But beyond sleep (one-third of our lives) and beyond Sabbath (one day of seven), we plan for and go on vacation. The word vacation is not in the Bible, but the concept is. Jesus even took a vacation of sorts at a point in his ministry when action must have seemed imperative. John the Baptist had just lost his head, and the disciples had just returned from their first preaching and healing tour. Surely this was the time to stay at work! But in Mark 6:31 we find Jesus saying,Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while. Imagine! At this crucial juncture, Jesus says, Let’s go on vacation. Let’s get away and rest for a while.
That brings us to our third truth about vacation. Vacations require the work of preparation. Let me explain. We live in a work-obsessed culture where people seek to achieve their meaning and purpose according to their work. Efficiency and productivity are key objectives. A higher income can become the ultimate goal—and harder work becomes the means to that end. Our computers and iPhones allow us to work anytime, so we have ended up workingall the time. We have become tethered to technological devices that had promised us more leisure but have instead produced the bondage of connectivity that compels us to check our email from an airplane and send a text while fly fishing. This technology even required the passage of a law to keep us from cutting deals while we drive our cars with only one hand. But a good vacation—whether a getaway to Maui, a camping trip in Carpinteria, or a staycation at home—requires that we deliberately shut off our work and go to the desolate place with Jesus.
This means that a good vacation is not so much about geography as it is about mentality. Vacation is a time to set aside the things that bombard us week-by-week and to truly rest. In his essay entitled “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” twentieth-century philosopher Josef Pieper warned that our society enthrones work at the expense of leisure. In a technological age, The demands of the working world grow ever more total, grasping ever more completely the whole of human existence. Again, vacation, rightly prepared for, says a resounding “no” to the all-encompassing demands of our work. As Tim Keller writes, [T]here must be an ability to enjoy the most simple and ordinary aspects of life, even ones that are not strictly useful, but just delightful.
When we vacation rightly, we have time to cultivate a grateful spirit, time to kill the gods of efficiency that dominate our era, time to relax with family and friends, time to give thanks to God for the good things he has given us. And, rightly practiced, our vacation should prepare us for the hard work that awaits us at home.
As Lisa and I prepared for our vacation in England, I was tired. Not tired of my work but tired in my work. So we went on vacation. We walked and talked and laughed and ate. And slept and walked and talked and laughed and ate… And though my feet grew tired, my spirit was refreshed. I found myself longing, again, for my work.
The summer is upon us. Have a great vacation!