The frothing waves climbed the shoreline, chasing us up the white sand. Colorful umbrellas stood at attention, guarding sunbathing bodies as far as the eye could see. Fluffy white clouds provided momentary shade from the beating sun as they slowly moved across the sky. It was a perfect Florida day. My husband and I were in town for a conference, but I convinced our hostess to steal us away for an hour to hear the sound of the ocean.
My summer vacation had only just begun, and this was the first item I checked off my list: “Hear the sound of the ocean.” Yes, that’s right. I have a list for my vacation, and this is only one of the many reasons I have a love-hate relationship with time off.
I am a notorious list maker. Simply making a list gives me a sense of accomplishment. I feel ordered, clear, and excited about the possibility of success, initially. That feeling, however, never lasts very long. I’m not nearly as good at crossing things off my list as I am at making them, even when the list is for my vacation.
I have a habit of overestimating the number of tasks I can actually complete in the length of time I’ll be away. Give me a vacation for a couple days, and I will plan a week’s worth of activities. Give me a couple weeks, and I will daydream my way into planning a major trip, writing three new pieces, reading a couple books, taking a couple day trips, and, of course, getting some rest. (Oh, and did I mention trying to start at least one good habit? Anyone up for a run?) Friends, I have a problem.
This wouldn’t make me so upset if I didn’t get so emotional about not finishing the list. Sadly, all the excitement that went into the list on the front end turned into anxiety on the back end as the clock ticked away on my vacation. I have a tendency to develop a sense of sadness when my vacations aren’t all that I envisioned or hoped they would be. So, I adjusted! No more lists. Well, no more written lists. But the truth is I still formed the list in my mind. So I had to sit down for a little more reflection. With time, I realized not finishing lists usually doesn’t bother me. (I find half-finished lists lying all over my desk, hiding in my nightstand, falling out of notebooks, and scratched into old diaries without any emotional attachment.)
Maybe my obsession with vacation lists is much deeper than the list itself. It’s not really the list that makes me so emotional; it’s the mentality that my vacation is wholly other from the rest of my life.
A Vacation-Less Life
Does anyone else slip into this mindset with vacations? Do you have this subconscious view of vacations as entering another world where time stretches on unimaginably, where inconveniences are removed, and where all the elements missing from daily life magically appear? That is a lot of pressure to put on a vacation! It’s no wonder we get so stressed out.
Viewing our vacations as small islands of needed perfection turns normal life into the enemy whom we must keep back, outwit, and defend against before it takes over. While we desperately attempt to keep normal life at bay, we simultaneously struggle to enjoy the rest of our time away, becoming obsessed with lists of activities we didn’t accomplish. The stress of this mindset is so unhealthy. Instead of focusing on the lists, it’s time to reimagine normal life and vacation life.
Rather than focusing so much on the quality of our vacations, we can put energy into enjoying the stretches of everyday life between them. We can be intentional about incorporating the usual vacation list into our normal life. Jesus promises that he has come so that we may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). While I don’t think Jesus had our vacations specifically in mind, I do think he would shake his head at us trying to squeeze an abundant life into just a few vacation days! That’s not the life I want, and I don’t think it’s the life Christ wants for us either. It’s good for our souls to embrace the joy that comes from fully living every single day (and not just when we’ve got sunscreen and bathing suits on).
I have some friends who are really good at this, and I am grateful for them. They don’t wait for the vacation to seek respite from work. They regularly find an antique shop or head to the farmers’ market for a mini treasure hunt. Others have incorporated creativity and play into their lives by taking a class, revamping an office space, or enjoying the outdoors. Our sisters are leading the way, and I want to follow! Do you know someone who is living life abundantly, every day instead of just on vacations? What might it look like to be inspired by them—to create your own adventures, your own playtime, or your own moments of rest?
We must remember that weekends exist even after a vacation ends. Evenings, mornings, and even lunch breaks can still be a great source of joy. Why not create work we love, work we want to return to when the break has ended? It’s time to take the pressure off our vacations and enjoy the entire life God has given us.