One of the most successful marketing campaigns ever to come out of a tourism board was the slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The idea that for a brief interval you could do whatever you wanted without it interfering with the rest of your life is a fantasy that has drawn millions upon millions to this neon-lit playground of vice in the middle of the Mojave desert.
While we as Christians may not openly aspire to a holiday from our values and commitments, if we’re brutally honest, we might confess to a sneaky pleasure in letting things slide a little when we go away. After all, aren’t holidays about spoiling ourselves, indulging a bit, opening that third bottle of Prosecco and reaching for the slabs of chocolate that would be under lock and key at home? Isn’t it time we got served for a change? All we do in normal life is run around after other people. And for those of us who are regular churchgoers, who would begrudge us that special pleasure of a rare Sunday off?
Perhaps it’s just me, but I usually pack my Bible and journal but after day two or three routines and disciplines are out of the window and I’m on an exclusive diet of thrillers and glossy magazines. I eat, drink and sleep too much, let my thoughts gad about as they will, and rather than returning back to normal life refreshed and invigorated, I’m a sludgy mess.
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No one needs a list of rules for enforcing good behaviour. I am certainly not going to suggest you only read theological treatises or spiritual biographies by the pool, or that you set your alarm for 5.30am to ensure you can fit in two hours of prayer before you head out sightseeing – unless those things would bring you genuine joy.
But wouldn’t it be amazing if our holidays were truly good for us – for our bodies, spirits, relationships and minds?
Here are some ideas for making our next vacation a holy holiday.
1. Mix up your habits
We can get into a rut with our spiritual practices just as much as in any other area of life. How about taking an audio version of the Bible away with you and listening to it on the journey, or while sunbathing, or on a long cliff walk? Why not try a new way of praying? Could you experiment with silence, or keeping a journal, or meditating on one line of the Lord’s Prayer each day?
2. Do something life-affirming
Sometimes we create a vacuum when we stop our regular activities and the vacuum gets filled by things that aren’t necessarily healthy or helpful. What about using your break to take up something that makes you happy? Could you pack a watercolour set and a sketch pad? What about playing tennis or bodyboarding? I’ve got grown-up friends who like jigsaw puzzles and colouring books and aeroplane-making kits, and I know children who like birdwatching and chess. Regular life can be too full for playing, so holidays are the perfect opportunity.
3. Let your light shine
We have the Spirit of God within us, so everyone we encounter has a chance to meet Jesus through us. How could share our faith on holiday? How can we bless those we meet and those who serve us where we’re staying or when we eat out or on our travels? I’ll never forget the experience of watching my mum spending an eight-hour stopover in Nairobi airport leading a young woman to faith when I was 11 years old. Let’s keep our eyes open for divine appointments.
4. Pause for thought
When we go away we have the space to reflect on the big picture of who we are and how we spend our days. Could you take a few hours on your next trip to pray and think about the direction you’re headed in? Could this be a chance to figure out whether some changes are needed?
5. After you
Holidays can bring out the selfish beast lurking in all of us, especially when we are really ragged and desperate for rest. We can be entirely focused on getting our own needs met and neglect the needs of everyone else. This can really backfire, because as study after study has shown, putting others first makes us happy.
6. God’s good creation
Psalm 19:1 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Holidays are often opportunities to spend more time outside, watching sunsets, stargazing, sitting by expanses of water or lying under a forest canopy. The beauty of creation speaks volumes about its creator and can call forth a deep response of worship from us.
A rhythm of work and rest was God’s design, reflected in the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest we read of in Genesis. But the purpose of Sabbath was not just to cease work, but to worship, feast and rest. Let’s resolve to have holidays full of worship, feasting and rest, and come home with our souls in good shape.
Jo Swinney is an author, speaker and editor of Preach Magazine. She has a Masters in Theology from Regent College, Vancouver, and lives in South West London with her vicar husband and their two little girls.