Two things to help you make the most of your time away.



On a family vacation to San Diego when our kids spanned ages 9 to age 4, I had these realizations: adventuring together is amazing—and for some reason we couldn’t leave our sin at home. This should not have surprised me. No personal space, 24/7 companionship and conflict — shocker. I struggled with feeling that sinful moments and harsh words marred the beauty of our trip.

Fast forward several years and we’ve added thousands of miles to our travel repertoire—by air and by car. Our kids really are fabulous travelers—I had begun to think we had “arrived.” But shed the personal space of a minivan, place five sinners in a compact car winding through the Appalachian mountains, across the Carolinas and out to the Atlantic coast, and we had plenty of spats, irritations and personality differences to work through.

Vacations seem to be as draining as they are uplifting. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. I believe it matters how we vacation—the miles we wander away from home have eternal impact. I believe God cares about our vacations and that we can honor him in times of travel. He is moving and active even when we’re at leisure. These times of travel have had far greater benefits to our family than experience-based consumerism. When vacations are used for connection and rest, we honor God and grow as a family.

Travel is for connection—and correction

Yes, correction. I don’t mean the correction that is simply, “Stop it! You’re annoying me!” (Not that those words have ever been said…). I mean the correction that comes from a child when I’ve reacted harshly, the nudge of my husband when I need to let something go, the discourse of siblings as they work through spats and forgive each other.

In The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Andy Crouch writes on the character refinement of car-time:

 

Who wants to turn every trip home from the store into an opportunity to build character? Except of course, that’s exactly what character is made of — daily, slow, sometimes-painstaking steps toward handling everyday challenges with courage and grace. And these opportunities are not just for our children but for us too...None of this comes automatically or easily, for children or parents.There will be childish meltdowns— on the part of children and parents. Something about the confined quarters and limited options of the car brings out the very worst in all of us at one time or another. Of course, that too is part of developing wisdom. But those same confined quarters can also, if we persevere with patience and creativity, eventually bring out the best in us.

 

This is the other side of the compact car: We sing and laugh and have dance parties. The kids squeal and play silly games, crushing each other on curvy, winding roads and enjoying every minute. They play Battleship, I Spy, and read Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga series aloud. They fall asleep on each other’s shoulders and whisper subliminal messages into the ears of sleeping siblings. And we talk to each other.

Crouch cites research that shows it takes seven minutes for conversations to really get going somewhere. With this in mind, it’s easy to find value in road trips. He writes, “Car rides, for many of us in car-centric America, give us some of our best chances to break the seven-minute barrier. Ideally, the dinner table can serve this purpose as well . . . But in the car, we’re arguably even more present to one another, and physically closer to one another, than at the dinner table.”

We’ve spent well over a thousand hours in car-travel miles. And many of those hours have been in our own silent worlds. That’s okay. But as with anything, conversation that breaches the shallow takes intentionality. I want to ask more about my kids than what they are reading or listening to. I want deep connections more than my personal peace and quiet.

Family life takes a whole lot of grace and even more so when surviving in compact (car) quarters. Sometimes it feels oh-so-messy. But I see these moments more like a litmus test, indicative of the state of my heart. Engaging in these moments with humility, with grace toward ourselves and each other makes all the difference.

Vacation is for rest and reflection

I vacation to withdraw. To rest. To be separate. I feel that I cannot release the burdens and stressors that I carry each day unless I physically leave my regular, daily spaces.

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).

All of our stuff will wait for us. In our socially connected world this idea of space seems more like a fairy tale. Our home phones don’t stay at home anymore. Our e-mail travels with us. Daily updates on every friend, acquaintance and “other” come too.

Lest you think this is headed toward an anti-tech rant, I’ll say definitively that I won’t leave my phone at home. I do need it for many good and useful purposes. But separation is essential here, too. I relocate or delete apps that I mindlessly check. My husband signs out of his work e-mail and then has me re-set the password (after solemnly swearing I won’t forget said password). Seeing one work e-mail sends his mind back into his office even when he’s hundreds of miles away. I write down and release the thoughts, reminders and to-do items that crowd my mind in a notebook. They will wait. Our kids leave their practices and lessons and chores. We all sign out in our own ways and go together.

I also vacation to rest from relational pressure. We are here on this earth to love well. I believe that. People matter — investing in people’s lives is worth every minute. But this, too, takes its toll.

Travel does not insulate me from all relationships. And that certainly isn’t the point. I travel with my family. I travel to see family and friends. Still, physical space away allows me to process and think through the relationships God has given me. When I return I can walk with more purpose, not a mindless frenetic pace that lacks vision and leaves me frazzled.

I love this thought from Maya Angelou in her memoir Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:

 

Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.

 

It’s worth considering how well we rest—evaluating the cadence of our everyday life and our times of travel. I resonate with this truth shared by Oswald Chambers: “The busyness of things obscures our concentration on God . . . Never let a hurried lifestyle disturb the relationship of abiding in Him. This is an easy thing to allow, but we must guard against it.”

Rest. Concentrate on God. Engage with him. Abide.

I will be the first to admit that not all vacations are created equal. Some can create a deficit of peace and leave a lingering exhaustion that would take another vacation to recover from. No matter the details of individual trips, I have seen God use the time away from our everyday ordinary—he has been faithful to meet me and my family. In his kindness he has gifted me with perspective, insight into myself, my children, my marriage and other situations I have faced. He has gifted me with rest, encouragement, joy and beauty. As a family, we have received these gifts together. He delights in our fun and laughter and misadventures. He cares for our hearts and our relationships with each other. By God’s grace, we draw closer to each other and to him.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).