June 5, 2012

On Vacation with God

Can you imagine this staggering view: blue sky over spectacular dunes that hug a sparkling sapphire-colored body of water. Happy people are walking everywhere. They wear casual clothing, some are in swimming gear, and everyone seems to smile continuously. Soft music plays in the background, and your stressed-out mind has already put you right in the middle of this amazing visual narrative—which unfortunately comes to a screeching halt when the salesperson at the travel agency broaches the subject of price.
Summertimes are vacation times all over the world. In some countries many public services and other offices are closed for an entire month. Cities are empty. Beaches are full. Some enjoy a suitless and tieless existence, others relish the lazy sleep-ins, everybody appreciates a commodity that has become increasingly scarce in our driven world—free time.
Vacation in the Bible
The concept of a vacation is a relatively new add-on to modern civilization. You will search unsuccessfully in your Bible concordance (or software) for the term vacation. Neither will you find trip or leave used in this sense. The closest biblical concept somewhat approximating the modern notion of a vacation are the sequence of feasts and festivals recorded in the Old Testament (e.g., Lev. 23 or Num. 28; 29).1 However, while they were at times linked to an agricultural cycle (spring, harvest, etc.), they emphasize the religious components and obligations of those traveling to the Temple (or, earlier on, the tabernacle).
2012 1515 page44In an agrarian society who could take a vacation? Animals needed to be fed and cared for, weeds needed to be pulled, plants required water, produce needed to be harvested, and marauders (or hungry neighbors) had to be kept in check. The only trip to sunny Spain recorded in Scripture is Jonah’s desperate cruise to Tarshish—and even there scholars are not too sure regarding its exact location and significance. And yes, you are right, Jonah did not plan on a vacation. He faced a much bigger issue: He wanted to flee from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3) to a place as far removed as possible from Nineveh in Mesopotamia.
Life rhythms were different in biblical times. Without electricity and with limited resources that could be used for lighting a home, people went to bed about sundown and rose with the sun every morning. Summer months promised less sleep and more physical labor, while winter months hailed shorter days and longer nights. Truth be told, however, nobody sat eight or nine hours in front of a computer writing creatively, programming, doing accounts or inventories, etc. Nobody spent nine hours every day on an assembly line tightening the same nuts and bolts. Nobody sat for hours in traffic trying to reach their workplace.
Then there is the story of Jesus and His disciples. I love the way Jesus seems to lovingly (but purposefully) shepherd His stressed-out disciples to a quiet place, following the return from their first mission tour (Luke 9:1-6, 10). He saw their needs. He recognized their weariness and questions. Above all, He sensed their necessity for continued spiritual nourishment and extra physical rest.2
We all need quiet moments and times of reflections. Vacation times offer great opportunities to recharge our entire being—even though they may also represent at times great challenges.
The Vacation Almanac
Normally, vacations interrupt our routines. We may not travel to distant places or another part of the country, but we will most likely sleep longer and do things around the house that we had been unable to accomplish before. How easy it is then to skip our morning appointment with the Master. As you plan your summer make sure that there is a big hedge around the special time with Jesus. Let no one and nothing interfere during this key moment of your day. Matter of fact: because vacation times promise more time than usual, we should plan special worship moments during which time is not the driving force. I love writing into my worship journal but am not always able to do so during my regular week. However, while on vacation I do it every morning—it’s a special treat for me and becomes a treasure trove for future Adventist Review articles.
I remember as a teenager looking forward to doing nothing during my vacation. Somehow I often ended up in trouble—because of nothing. The devil always finds work (or seemingly pleasurable activities) for idle hands. The other extreme, however—namely, doing too much—would result in similar consequences. Too much reading, too much media, too much entertainment—too much, too little, too everything will affect our well-being and experience, especially during a vacation. While we need to pay attention to our physical need for rest, the close link between mind, soul, and body reminds us to also live a balanced life during a vacation.
Here is another important tip: be a blessing, even on your vacation. Imagine this scenario: after a long trip (by air or land) you have finally arrived at your dream vacation spot. In spite of considerable inner turmoil you have turned off your smartphone (well done!). You are careful not to watch too much TV (excellent choice!). You’ve even decided to do something for your tired body and exercise every morning (wow!). Now the end of the first week is in sight, and Sabbath is just around the corner. Will you look up the local Seventh-day Adventist church and visit there on Sabbath, or do you consider yourself to be incognito during your dream vacation?  As a family we usually visit a new church, even if we don’t know the local language too well. Unless the church visit involves driving a long time, we all love to meet new brothers and sisters and get a better grip on the reality of church in a different region, country, or culture. Since my kids love GLOW tracts, we always take them with us on our vacation. So being a blessing has many facets. While you enjoy a cruise (hopefully not sailing too close to an Italian shoreline), ask God to use you as a witness to your fellow travelers. That does not mean speaking only about the Bible, but can involve being ready to lend a listening ear to somebody with a heavy heart. There are innumerable ways of being a blessing—even during a vacation.
2012 1515 page44I can measure the need for a vacation by looking into the mirror. Tired looks, dark rings under the eyes, too many extra pounds, and the general feeling of being worn out are good indicators that your health should be a number one priority during your vacation. OK, perhaps not number one, but definitely number two. Take your spouse or your dog for a good walk. Plan a 10-mile hiking adventure with your children and enjoy nature. Swim in the ocean, climb a mountain, run a marathon—but do something for your health. Obviously, doing something for your health does not involve only exercise but also temperance in our eating. Watch for the good life adding to your waistline.
For families with children, vacation times can be both stressful and also very rewarding. Smaller children may require supervision and some type of routine. Older children (even though they may not always express it) actually enjoy doing things as a family. Museums are great places, but too much education may vaccinate your children against them forever. When did you last play a table game with your children (or grandchildren)? Do you remember the last time you all piled into a car and discovered a new beach/national park/quaint downtown, etc.?  Our family has a tradition of spending at least two weeks every year at a beach, close to where my family is living. My girls love the dunes, the cold water, searching for stones and seaglass, working together on a 2,000-piece puzzle, or just spending time with their granny. Doing things together strengthens the ties that bind us. It provides moments of unscripted open-heart talk and kingdom opportunities in which eternal decisions will be made.
Come Rest Awhile
I don’t know where your summer will find you. Perhaps you will stay at home. Maybe you have decided to volunteer for an entire week for a VBS program in your local church. Possibly you are looking forward to a road trip to another part of the country or a visit to family in another part of the world. Wherever you go, listen to Jesus’ quiet invitation to come and rest awhile. This gift of time provides an opportunity to refocus your attention upon the Master, to reconnect to your loved ones, and to be a blessing to somebody around you. Take a vacation—and let God renew your heart.
1 Some English versions (ESV, NASB, NKJV, NET Bible) translate the Hebrew phrase yom tov in Esther 8:17 as “holiday.” The literal translation is “a good day” and reminds the reader of the moment of salvation of the Jews from the intrigue and murderous plan of Haman. It is clearly distinct from the notion of a free day or vacation. Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Texts credited to NET Bible are from the New English Translation Bible, © 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
2 I recommend reading Ellen White’s chapter “Come Rest Awhile” in The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), pp. 359-363, for further insights into this important story.

Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review who is already counting down the days to his summer vacation with his wife, Chantal, and their three daughters—somewhere on a remote beach. This article was published May 24, 2012.