Five Benefits of vacation

by Stephen W. Smith

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There are at least five benefits of taking time off and being away. I'm talking about the wonderful deposits we place into our souls when we take a vacation. I’m returning from four weeks off of work. Four weeks might seem like an extravagance that you cannot afford. I understand that. But for me—for us—we simply had to take this time off and had to be away. Here’s why…

  1. I needed time off and away because I needed to detox my soul.

Stress can make you sick. Like a sponge, we absorb so many things around us and into us that we are not fully aware as to how much we have taken on and taken in UNTIL we are off and away. My time off allowed me the much needed time and space to realize a few things:

There had been too much work. There had been too much time devoted to problem solving. My mind was too busy--too filled with people, stuff, and things that drain and do not give me life.

I needed my vacation. - I needed every bit of it. There is nothing wrong or selfish about taking time off. In doing so, we will be the better for it.

There had been so much care giving that I was almost at my tipping point, about to fall over the edge into a very dark space. It was a space I could feel and smell; a space that touched me in the dark hours of the night.

We greatly underestimate the toil of our work on our souls. For me, everything and everyone began to feel “too much”. This was a sign of how desperately I needed the time off and the time away.

When our thinking becomes jaded; when we live in a state of cynicism and sarcasm, and the inner voice begins to chant to us that “no one cares and no one ever will.” Then this is the time to stop., dis-engage., pull away, and be as off as you possibly can.

I realized that in the past year I had tried to save many drowning victims. Some of them made it and survived. I’m glad for that. But in all my efforts and my accumulated sense of fatigue of over 40 years of ministry of saving others, I was thinking that I may not survive-that I could not save myself from the rip tide of a raging current I felt sucked into. I needed time to rest, time to breath, and time to come back to my senses.

Few of us have the ability to be aware and awakened to the slow, steady drain on us of our work—especially if we are in caring professions such as teaching, ministry, or any profession that helps people. My slow leak in my soul had to be looked at and plugged if I was to make it to the finish line!

My time off allowed me this time to detox from the toxins that had accumulated in me, on me, and around me. Time off and away helped me to regain a sense of who I am and what I want to be about. 

Time off does that--it helps us come to our senses. Like the prodigal in the parable of Jesus, a pig sty of a mess can help us come to our senses.  Sometimes pig-sty’s helps us decide who we are and what we want in life.

2. My time off meant I needed to be away and not just off.

Because I office in my home, home can sometimes be a symbol of work, not just a home. My cluttered desk symbolized my cluttered mind and muddied mind. I needed to be away. 

To vacation is meant to "vacate" or leave the ordinariness of our lives and to walk into some kind of adventure that will help us--if not heal us.

Jesus knew this well. He explicitly told his followers that “It is to your advantage that I go away”. His being away would call his followers up to lead, not to just follow. He was, of course speaking of the advantages of his Spirit coming soon, but nonetheless, he left them many times in doing his own inner work of  solitude and vacating his own work for the work of his soul.

My own time away meant unplugging and detaching from mind-draining meetings filled with conversations about plans and strategy.

My time away meant I would bask in sunshine and the shelter of Douglas Furs. I would stare at humpback whales not my computer screen.

My time away would be time to let myself “come down where I ought to be” as the Quakers say so beautifully in their anthem, “Tis’ a gift to be simple. Tis' a gift to be free. Tis' a gift to come down where we ought to be.”  Vacations help us to come down. We come down from the junkie highs of busyness and adrenaline rushes and addictions of doing way, way too much in our lives and with our lives. Vacations can be a taste of the simple life--a glimpse of what heaven may be like.

My time off meant a time away to the pacific shores of California and into the wilderness of Colorado. Wilderness is the soul’s invitation to rest—to become small in the grandeur of mountains too great to comprehend and sunsets too glorious to do anything other than shut my mouth and open my heart. I needed the greetings of trees, the swells of the ocean tides and the song of the western Tangier—I saw my first one and the lushness of green meadows.

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3. My time off and away was a time to go into beauty and to breath it in.

There is nothing that replenishes the soul like beauty. Beauty awakens us to another world we miss when we move and live in perpetual busyness and in our multi-tasking, overly complicated lives. We think too much of ourselves, our work and our accomplishments. Beauty makes us feel small and when we become small, we are allowed to fathom true greatness and Greatness. Beauty pierces us and I needed to be pierced to let the pus out of my infected life.

I had become infected and the antidote to the soul’s infection is quiet beauty.

I listened to music. I walked in solitude across the summer wildflowers of Crested Butte landscapes. I sat by roaring rivers that flowed….that’s all the river did. It flowed and flowed…and I thought to myself, I want my soul to flow again.

Day by day I began to feel the flow again with me. It was life and it was good. It was very good. In time and through time I felt myself becoming unstuck--and isn't that anyone's real goal in life... not to be stuck but in the flow of real life?

4. My time off and away fostered an intimacy within, with God, and with my wife.

When we are “on” we feel torn between priorities and choices. The time off and away relaxed that tension. We did what we WANTED to do and we did not do what we did not want to do. We made healthy choices about meals. We hiked a lot and that led to conversations we enjoyed that we simply did not have back in our routine of life.

One day Gwen and I were praying together and reading a Psalm—the poetry for the soul. We were struck with one verse in which the Psalmist says so simply God wants to bless us with peace. (Psalm 22:11). I thought, “God really wants me to experience peace—to live a peaceful life.” This is what he longs for when he thinks of me. He’s not so much concerned with the questions I have about my work and life. He simply wants me to live a life of peace.

I loved that verse and I love it to this day. I want that peace more than I want anything else in my life-don’t you?

Gwen and I chose not to talk about some things; some people and some future things. We needed our minds and our bodies to relax. Shelving some conversations simply helped us.

We live in the complex world of relationships and people’s problems including our own. So choosing to NOT go “there” actually helped us.  Hard talks and difficult conversations are always going to need to be processed, but perhaps we can choose to "vacate" difficult subjects and to allow the soul and our tired, worn bodies to recuperate. There will always be re-engagement but for this time--for this time off and away we need to work on what we engage in and what we vacate from.In the few days back now, we’ve chosen to transition (and we are taking three days to be back home and transition to a very full schedule) we are now beginning to talk about this next week, next month and next season that is here. But the choice to Sabbath from so much work-talk, God-talk and people talked helped us to simply BE together and not feel torn apart by our opinions and ideas. 

One big mistake I see people doing is not allowing transition time to come back early, unpack, get ready to re-engage. There's a rhythm to everything---even to a healthy vacation. I've learned the hard way by years and years of stop and jerking back in--feeling the jerk of a quick re-entry without time, grace and being good to myself and perhaps my team mates.

5. Our time off and away helped us experience rich times of contemplation and life-giving reflection.

Time off and away allowed us time to chew on what we were reading rather than speed reading to get through the book or text. We read, re-read ,and continued to read again some chapters from amazing books such as Eugene Peterson’s “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” One chapter in particular about “training up children” and parenting had us talking everyday about what it means to raise up a child, a staff member, and people in general.

We read poems and poems read us. We took the time to slowly digest words so that they did, in fact become our necessary bread each day. I read a wonderful book by an African about silence. Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book, “The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise” offered me words from a perspective other than American to understand the sheer power of silence and what silence can do in us. I have loved this book and his thoughts—so different from my own.

We chose to not watch the news. We chose to not know what was going on out there so we might better know what was going on in our own hearts and within us. It was a healthy choice for us.

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I also chose to have no communication with our team at work. I needed a hard line to be drawn so that I would not try to spin the plates of work, team, and planning with my own soul's work and need to find life with me.  Again, it was a healthy choice.

The lost art of contemplation and reflection is a great concern of mine. We are so bent on getting information. Our churches have perhaps fallen into this also. So much teaching. So much preaching. So much information giving. We forget that the spiritual life is first, of all, a life to be lived…not the amassing of more and more stuff. We have no time to process what is happening in us and around us. We are reactionary to everyone and pop off at the mouth on social media, leaving carnage in our social media paths.

I'm tired of this. I'm very tired of this. We cannot live the spiritual life or a life marked by abundance by feasting on the stale bread of social media. We can not make sense of life, God, relationships or anything else in 140 characters.

That's the simple truth. There I said it.  So, I chose to fast from Facebook. I chose to fast so that I could feast on something far, far, far more nourishing to my soul than seeing pictures of you and those imagines stirring up feelings in me that I often would not like. Your times in Mexico and the beach only made me jealous actually.

While I was sometimes glad for you, I was more wondering why I couldn’t be sipping that drink I saw you drinking? There was room under that umbrella on the beach. So why didn’t you invite me to join you?” Things like that and more and worse made me glad to choose to leave the false and pretend world we project so often on social media platforms. That world does not foster the real world of intimacy, connection, and peace. At least it does not for me.

If Jesus, himself took regular time off and to be away then why shouldn’t we do the same? This is a question that seems to run counter-cultural to our ethos of work and life and our not taking the time off and by being away may be doing far, far, far more damage than we can realize by being on; being present and being consumed with our everyday life. There are many more benefits from time spent being off and away. Think of your own and make the choice to come back to life as I am doing.

(By the way, If you buy the books I mentioned here on the links provided,  your purchases will benefit the ministry of Potter's Inn.)