I performed an important Christian duty this week. I went down the shore for a week. Whether on the coast of South Jersey or the streets of Paris, I love to travel and spend some time away from home. When I return from these trips near and far, I see my home with new eyes. I feel refreshed for work. I clear my mind by reading a good book or taking in the ocean. I appreciate the time to pray, to sleep in, and to enjoy the company of friends.
I am drawn to vacation, but I often feel guilty about it. Isn’t there some better use of my time? Our society’s greatest challenges remain unsolved. Packing for my return to the seminary remains undone. I am sure pastors feel the strain of the upcoming school year or financial pressure. As someone who truly wants a greater culture of accountability in Church administration, I often wonder if a vacation is one of those things we can do without.
The answer is no. Even companies that expect their employees to work mind-numbingly long hours understand that leisure is an essential part of a balanced life. Our culture maligns those who develop an allergy to work – sometimes justly – but often fails to address those who consider themselves absolutely irreplaceable. For such people, work becomes a source of dangerous pride. One of the fundamental truths of Christianity is that God exists and he isn’t me. Yet modernity seeks to make gods of us all, gods who control our own pre-packaged, processed, and programmed universes. This temptation to prideful self-importance exists for many people – whether college classmates working eighty hours a week in consulting, priests, or even community volunteers.
The people I admire most are those who take what they do seriously without taking themselves so seriously. My worth as a human being does not depend on how busy I am, but on God’s love. I know that, but I still sometimes let unhealthy self-importance get the best of me. By visiting new places and enjoying some time at the beach, I become more open to God’s love which dispels all faulty notions I have of my place in the universe.
The ability to do many of these things is obviously based on my status as a middle class citizen of the first world. There are few people in Nairobi or Cameroon capable of traveling anywhere, or taking an extended break from their work. This reminds me not to let life become an endless quest for leisure and also to seek a just wage and humane working conditions around the world. But poor people can also teach an important lesson. Many times, they understand what trusting God truly means. They know they can seek him anywhere. Even in working hard to survive, they have the faith to see life as a gift from God.
Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have called for a Copernican Revolution in the lives of each person, placing God and others at the center of one’s universe, instead of one’s own success or agenda. Viewed in this light, a vacation represents both a gift and a joyful challenge.