Still Choosing To Believe You Can Have a Family Vacation To Remember

About a year ago, I wrote a response to this article from the blogger M.Blazoned. Her article about family vacations got picked up by HuffPost, and subsequently got a lot of mileage from friends of mine who share my stage of life.

There is a difference between a vacation and a trip.

I remember a few people responding to me by saying that I had missed the point —¬†M was only¬†pointing out that there is a difference between a true “vacation” and a mere trip.¬†Lest we get our hopes up needlessly, they said, in our¬†stage¬†of kids and minivans we ought not to expect too much from our summer excursions.

But I don’t think that was the point she actually made. Here’s what she said:

Wait. Is It Ever a Vacation with Kids?
I’m sorry to say, no. Unless you can pull off the hat trick of family trips. 1. Tropical resort. 2. All-Inclusive. 3. Kid program your kids will happily attend. It will give you moments that feel like a vacation, but, even still, you’re looking at a Vacation-Trip Hybrid at best.

Brushing aside the fact that M avoids¬†clarity with her “no-unless-but…” retort, the claim is generally staked — your family trips will never be vacations. They will never give you the refreshment and rejuvenation that a vacation will give you. ¬†If you cannot manage to take your family to a wildly expensive destination that offers fantastical arrangements for families with small children, you are doomed to¬†simply¬†cart your family around each year, spilling mustard on your clothes and getting burned by the sun while you satiate your children’s wishes to see Mickey Mouse, ride a roller coaster, go to the beach, get the¬†huge bouncy ball, or do whatever they just have to do right now.¬†

The prognosis is that you’ll be a leaky faucet, constantly, until these moochers finally leave your house, some time in the next century.

Maybe the problem is not that we’re expecting too much from vacations, but that we’re expecting the wrong things from¬†life

I want to posit that our real problem is one of unrealistic expectations of life in general, and that if we will reform our expectations to reflect reality, then we can find rejuvenation through fulfillment of purpose and experiences of closeness to the ones we love.

#1. Purpose

I don’t have the time to treat this topic fairly, but I will say that¬†life is better, fuller, clearer when lived out of a passionate pursuit of purpose. And though your children should not be at the very center of that purpose,¬†they play a clear and vital role. So, as you¬†use up your vacation days (a precious resource), and go spend time with your spouse and children, there is some sense that you are fulfilling some of the purpose for which God put you on this earth.¬†

#2. Closeness

If you have kids, you eventually get the idea in your head, clearer and clearer each day, that people¬†you love — your spouse and your children — will¬†live on after you are gone, and your time with them is ultimately limited.

Therefore, experiences of closeness are like fuel for your tank — they may not help you turn a profit at work, but they help you appreciate the people around you more, and they make you more thankful to God for graciously putting these people in your life. In other words, they bring you closer to a¬†maxim of faithfulness and gratefulness in a way that other experiences cannot.

What if we realigned our vacation planning around these goals?

I believe M’s ultimate problem with “vacations” was in her expectations of life, in general. Vacations, in that economy, are essentially a time totally free of obligation, except for the obligation to fulfill one’s own material desires. If that’s part of your definition, then it’s no wonder you can’t have a vacation while you also have a young family!

We¬†shouldn’t¬†focus on those things, because that’s not what we’re supposed to get out of life anyway. We’re disappointed, not because we don’t get what we expect, but because we expect things that we¬†can’t¬†get.

Instead, I would contend that vacations are a time when we get to take a break from the work and obligations that drain us, and draw nearer to the sense of purpose and relational closeness that gives us the energy to face the things we encounter upon our return.

With that in mind,¬†maybe we should ask the following question…

How can I plan a vacation, so that it will help me and the members of my family fulfill our purpose and grow closer as a family? Do we need the big bouncy ball in order to do this? …the roller coaster ride? …the hours in the car? Or,¬†can we do something simpler that will better prepare¬†us to come back and face our daily lives?

Think about it.

 

Life is an opportunity to be honest with yourself

A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. (Title of Psalm 51)

  

My last post generated a few responses. I appreciate the encouragement to keep writing.

The most notable response (to me anyway) began, “not sure how to practice this more…” I thought it was an excellent observation, because honestly, that’s where I am most of the time.

Seeing the problem is the easy part

It’s relatively easy to see problems. We look at things and instinctively know they are not perfect. Call it cynicism, skepticism, complaining, or whatever you want.

The problem with that is that usually, we see the problems when we aren’t looking at ourselves. I’ve been in countless small groups, Sunday school classes, church services where, when the conversation turns toward personal application, the room goes strangely silent.

Those of us who have been in and around churches for any length of time know the situation. The leader says something like, “Jesus is talking about infidelity here… And I know that many of us have a problem with lust here.” Suddenly you can hear a pin drop. Everyone clams up.

Suddenly we who so easily see faults in everything around us are unwilling to engage. We’ve shut down.

Where did we learn that we ought to be perfect?

The gospel says, “Be honest about yourself — it’s the only way to change.” This idea is not natural. Naturally, we know that impropriety brings punishment. And so we clam up, and hide the things we think might bring judgment. We think that God is calling us to appear perfect, when what he really wants from us is brutal honesty. 

Here’s a question to consider. Many of us know the story of David and Bathsheba, and how David was brought to justice after his affair with her. But where does one get the courage to write a chapter of the Bible, and begin it by describing one’s own infidelity for all to hear? This is the kind of courage that the gospel makes possible, and it’s what we need if we are going to truly change. 

King David, in his personal saga of isolation, sin, and repentance, had undergone a paradigm shift in his attitude toward himself, and that’s what enabled him to write Psalm 51. Unless our attitudes toward ourselves change, we will never be able to change our behaviors. Primarily, I think the natural attitude that needs to change has to do with the role of community.

Theoretical Christianity 

Most of us see spirituality as an intensely personal pursuit. We see it as an arena where we have the ability to relate to God and reform ourselves, but we don’t really see other people playing an essential role in that process. I believe that, while,  theoretically, yes, it may be possible to experience radical personal change through prayer and personal devotion to Scripture, most of the great fruit of the Spirit’s work is practically unobservable unless we give ourselves to a community of other people that will help us apply what we know to be true. Usually, until we make ourselves part of a transformational community, everything remains theoretical.

And that is against the ethos of the gospel. Remember — this is an utterly life-changing way to live, not simply a better way to think and talk.

This is the hard work of becoming a Christian. It is finding a small group of people with whom we can share our struggles and desires, and who can help us change and become the people we were created to be.

I don’t believe extensive passages about the “body” would be in Scripture (Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12) if our Chrsitianity were meant to be a completely personal pursuit. Even the “fruits of the Spirit” passage is a list of things that are nearly impossible to recognize outside of a community (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…).

A few points of application 

  1. We must change our attitudes toward ourselves. This is the first and perhaps the most difficult step. But once we open up to the idea that we need to change, the rest of the steps are then possible.
  2. We have to find people that will help us to change our attitudes. This is a pursuit that, I believe, is just as important as prayer and devotion to God’s Word. If we go though life saying, “I just don’t connect very well with other people,” then we’ll never find the courage to change. It’s up to us to find the few people with whom we can connect. 
  3. We have to be the kind of people that will help others change their attitudes. If we aren’t devoted to God’s people, then we aren’t really devoted to God’s Word, which tells us to devote ourselves to each other. We have to be honest about ourselves, but we also have to be the type of people who will listen when others are honest, and accept and love them for it.