Did Jesus ever take a vacation?
We know that He kept the Sabbath, so He rested one day a week in obedience to Mosaic law even though He, as God, had made that law for us.
He also invited the Apostles to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:30-31).
That’s as close to a vacation as 1st-century Jews might have experienced.
Vacationing is a relatively recent development in our culture. The word “vacation,” used particularly in the United States, comes from the root word “vacate,” meaning to be unoccupied. It refers to time spent unoccupied: unencumbered with work and labor.
Before our modern era, traveling for vacations or pleasure was a privilege for the wealthy. In fact, in early America, taking a break from work beyond Sundays was quite frowned upon. Puritan roots in the culture influenced the belief that “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.”
That’s true if we view vacations only as times to overindulge and completely “vacate,” leaving even faithful practices behind.
But in other cultures, vacations are known as “holidays.”
In previous centuries, holidays were enjoyed distinctly from vacations. In fact, the word Holiday comes from the word “Holy Day”—that is, from the holy celebrations and feasts of the Church. On holy days of obligation, people used to go to Mass and enjoy a festive meal. They rested from servile labor. That’s right—no work! It was a day of celebration and recreation.
Sadly, most holidays and celebrations today are stripped of their religious symbolism and significance, but people do still have an instinct to understand the importance of rest and recreation.
So, in this season of R & R, when kids are out of school and schedules can slow to a dull roar—allowing more leisure time together—what makes a holy vacation?
Maybe the better question is: how can we sanctify our vacations?
Let’s look at five tips on how to make sure our vacations are rejuvenating for our souls as well as our minds and bodies.
5 Tips for Sanctifying Recreation
We rest on the Sabbath because it is one of God’s Commandments, and we do it in imitation of Him. He created for six days. He re-created on the Sabbath. In doing so, God sanctified recreation.
As His children, in our limited humanity, we need time to be “re-created.” Renewed. Reinvigorated. We need rest. That sacred time is restorative for our human natures. But we cannot be recreated without our Creator.
Vacation is meant to be a time for that rejuvenation. We are meant to relax, play, pray, and enjoy quiet time as we celebrate God and all He has done. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that relaxation of mind and body, if done in the Spirit, become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God the Father (CCC 901).
The key is to take God with us, not to leave Him behind as we lock the door on our way out.
Here are five simple ways to do that on your summer vacation.
1. Find God in nature.
For many of us, time spent outdoors, traveling to new vistas and landscapes, and experiencing the natural world are a favorite part of vacationing.
Of course, you don’t have to visit the Grand Canyon or the Swiss Alps to marvel at God’s creation. Beaches, lakes, mountains, and other simple natural wonders are the perfect places to reignite our awe in the Creator.
Recognize Him in His incredible handiworks, and when you do, take a moment to offer Him a prayer of thanksgiving.
2. Find God in simple opportunities.
If you are traveling for your vacation, start your trip with a prayer together.
When you eat out, say grace and make the Sign of the Cross. Don’t be self-conscious about living your faith in the world or on the road! You can be a witness for Christ and a light in the darkness when you overcome embarrassment and pray in public.
Pray the Rosary during a long car ride to begin your trip, and add a simple prayer of thanksgiving together at the end of your day before you all go to bed. It will bring greater intimacy during this time, and remind everyone that this is a special occasion of unity, joy, and gratitude worth celebrating.
Look for opportunities to help others. Hold a door open, give directions, lend a hand to a fellow traveler, or find other ways to be the love of Christ for others during your vacation.
When everyday life is hectic, those opportunities can sometimes get away from us. When we are at rest, on vacation, we have the opportunity, time, and presence of mind to make ourselves deliberately available, perhaps with greater generosity of heart.
3. Find Him in church.
Wherever you travel, you are likely to find a Catholic church where you can attend Mass on Sundays or weekdays. Check out one of the many websites that offer this information, like MassTimes.org, and live your faith on vacation as you experience Mass in new surroundings. It’s important to make sure you are not too far from a Catholic church on a Sunday when traveling.
When you drive past a Catholic church, make the Sign of the Cross. Even if you do not go inside, Jesus is there waiting for us in the Blessed Sacrament. Acknowledge Him and sanctify that moment in thanksgiving for the gift of Him in the Eucharist. This is an important teaching moment for kids!
4. Find Him in quality time with your family.
If you are enjoying a vacation with family or friends, seek God in the treasure of these loved ones.
As you make memories and celebrate your history together, look for opportunities to thank Him for the gifts you recognize in those around you. Take joy in the experiences and traditions you share.
Be mindful of the blessing of others, especially your family members. You are free from at least some of the everyday chaos of normal routine, so be deliberate—truly present—in your time with those you love. Try hard to see Christ in them, especially those whose presence can be challenging.
If you are vacationing alone, enjoy your intimate time of rest and renewal. That quiet will restore your spirit, so remember to express your gratitude to God as you let go of your cares and wrap yourself in His grace and peace.
5. Find Him in peaceful prayer.
Slip away for a quiet respite – just a few moments in each day can make a big difference. Meditate on His goodness and thank Him for your many blessings. Take time for some spiritual reading, or start your morning with the Mass Readings for the day. Enjoy the gifts of your vacation with a grateful heart and a spirit of joy, and offer your joy back to God in thanksgiving and prayer.
Embracing the Sabbath When Vacations Get Stressful
At times, even vacations can be a source of stress.
If this is true for you, it’s even more important to remember the invitation of Jesus to His Apostles to come away with Him. Not every moment has to be planned, or busy, to be enjoyable. Make an effort to detach from “doing” and embrace “being.”
When you do this, you are living a true “Sabbath,” which consists of both worship and rest. We are not valuable because of what we do. We are valuable because of who we are.
We are made in the image and likeness of God, the great “I Am,” so “being” is enough. The world would have us forget that, but it’s true.
A Traveler’s Prayer
When I was a little girl, my parents taught us this prayer. They learned it from their parents, and now at least three generations of my family have prayed it when we travel. Each time we all pile into the car for anything from a routine errand to a family trip, we recite it together.
It’s easy to memorize:
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
be with us on our way.
be our guide.
This summer and always, I wish you times of respite, peace, joy, and gratitude, where you come away with Him and rest a while, so you can renew your appreciation for the wonders of our good God, and the love He has for you.