When Good Vacations Go Very Bad

Laura and I had been looking forward to last week since Christmas.  Back in December we talked about Christmas gifts for each other and realized all either of us wanted was a few days away as a family.  We hadn’t gone on vacation by ourselves since Jack was born and thought a few days in a little cabin in some picturesque mountain setting seemed perfect.  So, that was our gift to each other.  And last week was our chance to enjoy it.

But I need to give you a little backstory to explain just how much anticipation we had for these days.  When we finally found the place we wanted to rent, we realized we could only afford two nights.  That was a little less than we had hoped for but we were good with the trade to stay in a place with such a great view.  So, we booked it.  The next day, I got an email from the owner saying they were running a buy two nights, get one free special for February that they hadn’t posted on the website yet but we were welcome to come up a day early if we wanted.  We were thrilled!  And you better believe we were talking about God’s blessing on our lives.  We had already booked the two nights – they didn’t have to offer us the third.  This was God’s favor on a tired little church planting family.

When we got there on Wednesday, it was every bit as beautiful as we had hoped.  The first few hours were exactly what we pictured – infant son frolicking in the living room while Laura and I worked on dinner looking out over the mountain view.

And then Jack puked.

No big deal.  Kids do that.  But then he did it again.  And again.  And again.  Add in a few other symptoms and by Thursday we knew the boy was in rough shape.  On Friday, I joined the party. That’s when things went from bad to worse.  That’s also when my lovely nurse practitioner wife arrived at two conclusions: one, Jack and I had norovirus (yes, the thing of cruise ship fame); and, two, we were leaving immediately.  I honestly was so weak and sick that I couldn’t help pack the car at all but Laura went into some kind of superhuman Mom mode where she took care of everything, loaded us up and brought us home.  Because I like you, I won’t give you details – but it was the worst car ride of my life and probably Jack’s as well.

Fortunately, Laura never got sick.  But it was still a pretty nasty weekend around our house.  I’m starting to feel better but working from home today so I don’t give this horrible thing to anyone at the church.  Poor Jack is still struggling to get better.

But here’s the real question: what happened to God’s blessing?!?

Did we fail Him somehow?  Did He fail us? Was He punishing us for sin?  Treating His servants unfairly? Letting us down? Angry with us?  Cruel?

My guess is we all tend to think about God’s blessing the same way.  When everything is great, God is blessing us.  When everything falls apart, He isn’t.  Maybe we give Him credit when everything goes well but we definitely give Him the blame when things don’t.

But that’s not what the Scripture teaches.  God was every bit as good when I was puking my brains out as when we were getting free nights in the cabin.  He uses all things for good (Rom. 8:28).  He never fails us (Josh.1:5).  He’s with us always (Mt. 28:20).  And all of His work is done in faithfulness (Ps. 33:4).

Here’s the point: even when we can’t see God’s blessing in our circumstances, it is constant in Jesus and in the gospel.  After all, God’s promise to bless us with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3) doesn’t rest on our obedience but on His grace.

The question is which we value more: vacations or eternal life?  Which produces more joy: a good meal or knowing that we are co-heirs with Jesus to everything (Rom. 8:17)?  What do you want most out of today: ease or intimacy with God?

Yes, God blesses our circumstances and I love it when He does.  Yes, we should thank Him for vacations, date nights, good weather and good health.  But don’t anchor your hope in that stuff.  Real, enduring, unshakeable hope is found in the person and work of Jesus on the cross.

I would much rather have Him and a bad vacation than a great vacation without Him.

Getting Ready For Vacation

I used to hate the last work day before vacation so much that I’ve actually considered cancelling vacations just to avoid that day.  That last day of work can be pure torture – an exhausting frenzy of work I’ve put off too long, conversations other people absolutely must have with me before I go and a few totally unforeseen disasters just to make life interesting.  It can be the kind of day when I’m annoyed at everybody including myself.

I used to cope with that stress by carving out extra work time.  I would plan to stay really late at night and get everything done once everyone else left for the day.  When that wasn’t enough, I would start auctioning off vacation time.  Some of those last-minute conversations became phone calls I could make from the car.  Some of the projects I needed to work on became things I could take care of on the plane.  Last minute problems became reasons that I wouldn’t totally unplug during my vacation.

It was an awful way to vacation.

And then I started doing something that made all the difference in the world for me.  It’s so simple that I’m almost embarrassed to write about it.  But it’s been so helpful to me that I’m willing to take the risk.  As soon as I schedule a vacation, I block out four hours of time on the morning of my last day in the office – no meetings, phone calls or interruptions.  Pure space to tie up loose ends.

I’ve found that if I push that time to the afternoon, it gets swallowed up by the events of the day.  But if I give myself four hours first thing in the day, I’m able to make a huge amount of progress.  I get to wrap up projects, answer emails and get a few things in motion that I need to hear back on later in the day.  Once I have that time, I don’t mind scheduling a few meetings in the afternoon.  But the morning is sacred – it’s my time to fight for my vacation, fight for time with my family and fight for the ability to genuinely rest and recharge.

My guess is a number of us are headed out on vacation later this week for the 4th.  So, start planning now for how you can defend that last day of work and actually be able to unplug when you head out on vacation.