“Lord, as we enjoy times of relaxation this summer, help us to remember that we are never on vacation from Your will.” I read these words recently and they have captivated my thinking.
I’ve been thinking about whether there is a distinctly Christian way to vacation. We have learned to approach our work as vocation, a calling from God, but what about our leisure?
The word “vacation” itself doesn’t offer much help for this kind of reflection; with its echoes of “vacant” and “vacate,” it mostly conjures up a sense of absence. Vacationers commonly express a desire to “get away from it all.” While there’s nothing wrong with taking a break, stepping away - in a word, sabbath - there is also a trap in holding a merely negative definition of vacation. Perhaps you’ve experienced frustration, even despair, when you try to get away from your life for a while, but your life follows you. Maybe that’s part of why many vacations descend into family squabbles, as people seeking no higher purpose than to get away start to feel trapped by enforced togetherness.
Freedom has two sides (like most things) a positive and a negative. “Negative freedom” is freedom from, a lack of constraint, while “positive freedom” is freedom for, the ability to achieve or enjoy some good. We modern, Western people don’t like to be told what to do – especially not “on our own time.” Vacation for most is simply understood as “getting away from it all” is a sign of a negative concept of freedom.
The Christian faith, though, offers a strong counterweight to our culture’s tendency to try and “get away from it all”. To be a Christian is to confess that I am not my own - I have not created myself, and my own choices certainly can’t get me out of the mess I’m in. Even Paul’s strong claim of “freedom from” - “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” - is closely followed by a reminder of the ultimate purpose of Christian liberty: “ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”” (Galatians 5: 1, 13). Our “freedom from” is only worthwhile if it serves some good, to the glory of God.
As you plan your next vacation or think back on a recent one, what would happen if you shifted your focus from what you’re getting away from to what you’re getting away for? Is your vacation, just as much as your work, an opportunity to respond in loving obedience to God’s call?
- Pastor Erik Sanders