Have you ever noticed it takes several days before you really feel like you are on vacation? I recently went to the beach with a friend. I was excited to show her all the things I had discovered over the past several years. We were almost as busy as we were at home. It was still a great vacation but it might have been more restful if I hadn’t tried to pack so many things into our days. It was hard to slow down.
On the beach, I noticed I wasn’t the only one struggling to get into vacation mode. The sugar white sands were covered with crowds of restless people, and boom boxes were blaring, drowning out the gentle rhythmic sounds of waves lapping the shore and seabirds calling. These folks didn’t look rested and refreshed as they lugged their beach chairs and coolers toward the water. Like me, they were trying to hurry up and relax, struggling to leave behind the frantic pace of life in the fast lane.
You Call that a Vacation?!
According to a report in TIME magazine, two parent families work 26 percent more, and single-parent families work 53% more than they did in 1975. And yet we take significantly fewer vacation days than other developed countries. For example, the average American takes 13 days, compared to 26 days in Canada, 37 days in France, and 42 days in Italy.
When I lived in Europe, I observed that the mindset about rest and relaxation was strikingly different than the one we have here in America. People there would disappear for weeks at a time to the south of France, nothing like these long weekends we Americans call vacation.
Finding Our Souls
Life demands a lot from us. We devote ourselves to our work, to our families, to our friends, to our faith community, to volunteering, to taking care of our health. And that is just when things are going relatively well! Never mind when things begin to fall apart and we have to add an unexpected crisis on top of everything else!
Obligations and time pressures often keep us from nurturing our souls, the part of us that connects with God, the things that really matter, and the deepest and best parts of our humanity.
In his meditation on Psalm 23, The Lord Is My Shepherd, Rabbi Harold Kushner tells a charming story of some tourists on safari in Africa. They traveled for three days with local natives carrying their supplies, at which point the porters stopped. Their explanation? “We have walked too far too fast and now we must wait for our souls to catch up to us.” What do we need to do to allow OUR souls to catch up?
In scripture, we are offered the solution. God knows many Americans find it a hard pill to swallow. God himself models the need to take a break and rest in the creation story in Genesis. When the heavens and the earth were finished, according to Genesis 2, God took time off.
And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Whether you take that story literally or not, the principle is still there. Rest and being refreshed is essential. In Exodus 31, God’s people are told to observe a Sabbath rest.
It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. Exodus 31:17
Sabbath rest was not meant to be punitive and miserable. It was for our refreshment. It was and is an opportunity to exercise our faith that God has things under control and we can let go our constant vigilance. It’s not all up to us! We can let go and relax, reminding ourselves that we are so much more than our work and the things we produce. Vacation is a Sabbath rest.
Nurtured by Nature
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1
The Psalms tell us that nature declares the glory of God. The soothing blues and greens found at the beach, by a cool mountain stream, or by a lake are good for our soul. When I lived in Alaska and felt myself getting depleted, I would escape to the family cabin. I filled all my senses with sounds of birds and small mountain streams, the sweet smell of moss and flowers, the cool breezes contrasting with the warm sunlight breaking through the trees. To cap it off, the surrounding mountains were a stunning reminder of the brilliant, powerful Creator behind this exquisite beauty. What a gift!
Vacation, and taking time to rest, gives us a chance to connect with family and friends. It reconnects us to neglected parts of ourselves, allowing us to rediscover our creative energy. Vacation allows us to reconnect with nature and the Creative Power who gave it to us as a gift. Vacation, when taken as a Sabbath rest, reminds us that we are more than what we do or the things we own, giving our souls a chance to catch up.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, a nationally certified counselor, and a registered nurse with several years experience helping people with healthy, successful living.