A Gathering Voices Post by Greg Garrett
This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much ******* fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our ******* smiles.
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
I’ve been on my share of family vacations; I’m on one as I write. Sometimes they’re loads of fun. Sometimes, as in the movie Vacation, they are trying beyond belief. My parents split up during our last family vacation, so I believe I know whereof I speak.
Yesterday, I stood in line at Universal Studios, Orlando; today, I shopped for Disney Princess gifts for my beloved's little girls at Disney World; this week, I spent time sitting beside pools where moms, dads, and a whole lot of kids were playing hard, arguing, splashing; this week, I drove 2500 miles, sat in traffic jams, filled up the car over and over again with super-expensive gasoline.
It feels like a lot of work—even when it works, as this vacation has. Why do we go on vacation? What emotional and spiritual needs do these trips serve? And how might we experience the healthiest—and most satisfying—vacations possible?
Once Memorial Day passes, we start our engines—or board planes—and prepare to try hard—really hard—to have fun. Many of us work a lot; unlike my friends in France, for example, who have a mandated 35-hour week, lots of us burn the candle at both ends. It takes two incomes for many families to make ends meet, and there’s still work to do when we get home, kids to feed, bathe, and get in bed, and with our new connectivity, maybe more work, more emails to answer, more problems to solve.
I myself work a lot. I have a fulltime job, I write, I speak, I preach and teach. I also parent and partner, which are not work, but take time to do them well. And I know that I look forward to trips like my recent week in the Colorado mountains as one way to counteract the demands of a hectic life. Soon, I tell myself each spring, I will set aside work for a bit. Soon I will step away from email and step onto a mountain trail.
But often, I fear, we build vacations up in our heads so that if they don’t go as we’d hoped, they feel like more failure. Tensions mount. People yell. Things don’t go as planned. On this trip, I was surprised by road construction in Baton Rouge, and by a hotel management change, and by the sheer press of other vacationers in Orlando for Disney and Universal and a dozen other reasons.
So how might we treat a vacation as an emotional and spiritual opportunity? Maybe by grounding ourselves in some of the things that always matter.
Community: Who is going with us, or who might we encounter on the way?
Joy: How might we treat the journey not as a series of difficulties, but as a continuing possibility for joy?
Groundedness: How can we be present at every moment, and aware that even the surprises and disappointments have their own particular things to teach us?
What sets apart your best--or worst--vacations? And what lessons could you share with us?