Aug 7, 2011

Who Needs a Vacation?

In my latest "In Good Faith" column, I take on the issue of vacation time and why we all need Sabbath time whether we know it or not.

Who Needs a Vacation?

Let’s face it, the concept of “vacationing” with young children is an oxymoron. There’s nothing the least bit relaxing about schlepping around the country with toddlers in tow. Perhaps a more accurate name for such family endeavors would be “traveling chaos.” My boys are older now – 10 and 12 – but I specifically remember morphing into the guy I used to laugh at in airports; trudging through Concourse B like a beast of burden heavy laden with car seats and strollers and diaper bags with nary a skycap in sight.

But the getting there is only half the battle. Sleeping in a single hotel room with one child who insists on falling asleep with the light on and another who insists on falling asleep with the light off is not for the faint of heart. And God help you if the Elmo blanket was accidentally left on the airport shuttle.

I have vacations on my mind because I’m in the midst of some time off. I have to admit that, like many Americans, I’m lousy at taking vacations. Sure, I look forward to them. I love spending time with my family and nothing beats a day at the beach – whether it’s Nantasket or Waikiki (though the odds of finding Kona coffee are slightly slimmer in Hull than Hawaii). But my BlackBerry, laptop, the Internet and general availability by cell phone all conspire to make even the most remote spot a mere office satellite. Technology has become the world’s longest umbilical cord connecting overachievers and workaholics back to the office. In other words I can run, but I can’t hide.

And I’m not alone. For many people “vacation” simply means working from somewhere else. This is likely driven in part by the fragile job market – “If I’m not showing my dedication by producing all the time, they might decide my position is expendable” – and by our general inability to relax. A recent Reuters poll showed that 59 percent of Americans don’t even take the full allotment of their annual vacation time. And CNN reported that in 2010 we gave up $67 billion in vacation days.

Wow. Talk about a country in desperate need of a collective vacation! It’s no wonder so many of us are stressed out, spend significant chunks of our disposable income on coffee and feel like we’re on a constantly moving treadmill with no end in sight.

I’ve been known to check my work email on my day off and while on vacation if for no other reason than to minimize the slew of emails that invariably accumulate while I’m gone. I tell myself I’m doing myself a favor but am I? The reality is that when we’re always available we’re unable to enter into the profound Sabbath time that our souls crave.

Time off – true time off not merely the outward appearance – is essential to our physical and spiritual well-being. Without it relationships suffer, creativity dwindles, perspective is warped and life becomes an obligation rather than a joy. Sabbath time allows us to set aside the cares of our lives for a time in order to focus on our relationships with God, with one another and with ourselves. These three ultimately are what life is about – everything else is tangential. And time away allows us to regain the perspective that allows us to lead more healthy, productive and joy-filled lives.

Take some Sabbath time and another reality quickly emerges: We’re not nearly as important as we think we are. If we’re not available, people will make do, life will go on and things will get done. The world survived without us for millions of years. I have a funny feeling it won’t miss us too much if we’re out of touch for a week or two. And anyway if even God rested after creating the world, I think we can all get away with some guilt-free time off.

Later this summer we’re driving out to Ann Arbor, Mich., to catch up with some family. Yes, I said “driving.” The four of us will pile into the mini-van and head out to points west. I confess that I’m dreading the drive, knowing how well our boys handle even a trip into Cambridge. But who knows? Maybe I’ll be surprised. After all, we’ve armed ourselves with the ultimate carrots for two sports-crazy boys – stops to see minor league baseball games in Erie, Penn., and Binghamton, N.Y., on the way out and a trip to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on the way home. “Are we there yet?”

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