Do We Have to Vacate?

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Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the typical questions at this time of year were: “Got summer plans?” or “You going anywhere for vacation this summer?” And come the end of summer, as we caught up with friends again, the inevitable question would be “What did you do for summer break?” Admittedly, there is a certain school year rhythm woven into those questions, as well as an assumed economic mobility and flexibility that allowed our families time away from work and home. But in that context, summer meant stopping and disappearing. Whether camping, cottaging, Six Flags, SeaWorld, Disneyland, or some historically significant setting, the basic idea was the same: summer vacation meant going somewhere else. Literally, the idea was to vacate Grand Rapids.

As we’ve lived in Hamilton, Ontario, the past five years, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing similar questions with a slight twist. It’s not uncommon to hear people ask about summer holidays, instead of vacation. I’m pretty sure this semantic difference is due in part to the ongoing European connections and influence. After all, we just celebrated Victoria Day over here: “God save the Queen!” And it really is just the same; culturally the idea is to get away during the summer. However, I’d like to think that these semantics could have some lingering potency to them. And it's left me wondering, do we have to vacate this summer? 

I wonder what difference it could make if we approached time off from work and school as holidays or “holy-days” instead of as opportunities to vacate. I suspect that there might be a little more intentionality with spiritual disciplines. There might be longer and leisurely times of reading scripture.  We might have prayer that is shaped mostly by silence in God’s presence while walking (hiking, rowing, gardening, etc) in creation. We’d almost certainly fast from incessant communication about urgent-your-the-only-one-who-can-solve-this-matter in order to give more attention to God’s goodness, beauty, and creativity revealed through playing. Some of us might be more deliberate with looking for opportunities to engage on a “family mission trip” or some other experience of serving in ways we normally don’t have time for. But I suspect that the concept shift from vacation to holiday could have a more significant impact on life when we come back then on life while we are away.  

Could it be that a shift toward saying “We’re going away for a few holy-days” challenge our view of work? So often we hear and talk about work as something to be escaped and avoided whenever possible. Might it alter our views of education as necessary hoops to jump through in order to get the life we want? “C = degree” as some people say. Might it challenge our view of retirement to see it as a longer set of holy-days rather than a perpetual right to vacate responsibilities and live for oneself? Could it challenge our North American view of salvation as escaping this life and getting into heaven? Likely, not by itself.

It’s subtle, I’ll admit. But I think in our current cultural context, which comes close to worshiping recreational experiences, we often degrade our ordinary days as if they were never meant to be. Culturally, we have come to value escape – feet up, favorite show on, a martini, glass of whiskey, extreme fitness, mall therapy, an affair, lottery – whatever provides us with release from the moment. We are immersed in a culture that is constantly looking for ways to vacate – responsibilities, relationships, God. Our language and the vision we have adopted for what qualifies as good summer plans participates in this idea of vacating the ordinary as quickly and frequently and permanently as possible.  

What if forming a counter-narrative to this escapist culture starts with renaming our summer plans from vacation to holy-days? Is it possible that we could recover some of the beauty of the common day, the creational goodness of working for the flourishing of others, and the wonder of God’s provision in the present moment by elevating the holy-days without diminishing the ordinary ones? What if we viewed our holidays as necessary for our well-being because we have not yet learned how to live well and robustly in our ordinary days?

What do you think? How might approaching your summer plans as holidays instead of vacation impact the way you view and engage your ordinary days?

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Community Builder

I once had a wise spiritual director say words to me that I will never forget and that have helped guide my life ever since: She said, "Consider the things that bring you life; consider the things that bring you death; and don't do violence to yourself." Work for me includes both those things that bring life, and those that bring death; and I can tell when the balance gets shifted and I need to make some changes. The Lord has created us with a need for Sabbath, for rest, for the renewing and refreshing of our souls. This blog is thought-provoking for me. What brings life to my soul? A vacation-day or a holy-day?

Community Builder

Hi Chris,

Thank you for this blog post.  I like your angle.  We too "vacate" a bit during the summer, as we love to go camping and visit family.  But like you suggest, I'm trying to take more "Sabbath" during my vacation.  Slowing things down, reading more, spending more time in quiet.  We also spend considerable time in our backyard, working in the garden, but also spending time in solitude and silence, in God's creation.  But as much as we enjoy staying home during summer holiday time, we've also learned to get a way a bit, as you'll know that when a pastor is home, he is "on-call."

May the Lord bless our Summer-Sabbath breaks!

--Leon