I’m going on a week-long vacation with my family next week. I’m totally excited—well, not quite yet.
You see, I haven’t caught up mentally. I’m still stuck on my day-to-day task list. My type-A mind is swimming with the details of what needs to be done before leaving. I’ve made my pre-vacation checklist. Check.
I calculate that I’m working the evening shift until midnight, eight hours before we leave. I’ll go to bed immediately, leaving first thing in the morning.
I feel like Martha in the Bible preparing to go on vacation. The rest of life doesn’t slow down when I’m trying to.
Have you ever found yourself busier than usual before getting away? Or hustling to get everything done so that you can take a day off? Hurrying to arrange for childcare so that you can go on a date night with your spouse? Rushing through chores so that you can plop down on the couch?
Ironically, sometimes we run faster on the treadmill of life just so that we can get off.
1. Savoring Vacations Beforehand
Fortunately, there are steps that we can take to maximizing a vacation. The benefits of time off start much earlier than the long-awaited day when we hop in the car. A Dutch study found that people going on a vacation experienced their highest level of happiness weeks or even months before a trip.
Shawn Achor writes about this effect in his book The Happiness Advantage. According to his research, vacation anticipation can boost our endorphin levels so that we feel as many positive expectations and excitement as when we are on vacation. In other words, vacation planning has its own mental health benefits.
For the Christian, vacation anticipation can include meditating on His goodness to us. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV).
We might relish the gracious provision of rest and play, the much-needed break from day-to-day routine. Time off is, after all, a tangible reminder of His invitation to us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is one way we experience His character as being “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:28).
We can excitedly count down the days to seeing family and friends, recognizing that this, too, is a gift from God. We anticipate visiting faraway places, wondering if the online pictures will do them justice. We look forward to special time with Him. We worship Him as the giver of good gifts.
When I’m mired in busyness, however, I rob myself of all these blessings. I end up missing out on all the well-documented benefits of vacation anticipation. All I see is the next task on the to-do list, rather than the smorgasbord of gifts up ahead.
I wonder what else we miss out on when we are moving too fast through life.
2. Looking for God During Vacations
Once we arrive at our destination, God has more to teach us if we are open. Let’s not compartmentalize Him as is easy to do. For God is with us, even on vacation.
If we visit a scenic place, the sheer expanse of the mountains might give us pause to His greatness and majesty. The slightly curved ocean horizon in the distance shows us how vast His creation is. We might stand amazed before a sky full of twinkling stars that we can’t see back home. We snap pictures of unfamiliar creatures that reflect God’s creativity.
Our problems pale in comparison—indeed, we humbly pale in comparison.
If we visit another culture, the people may broaden our minds and make us realize that our hurried way of life is not the only way. If we try new experiences, they push us out of our comfort zone, the well-controlled habitats of our daily existence. They might make us question the well-defined lines of our belief system, challenging us to learn and grow.
If we choose to retreat to a quiet place instead, we might encounter the still, small voice of God soothing our weary souls. He provides the rest, nourishment, and strength that we need, as He did for Elijah when he was discouraged to the point of desiring death (1 Kings 19:1-18).
Yet the faster we live, the more we miss out on when we do stop because we’re still coming down from a chronic low level of adrenaline. According to a recent study, Americans don’t disengage from thoughts about work and other responsibilities until day four of a vacation!
Perhaps you can recall an instance when you got time off only to discover that your anxious mind could not disconnect from your worries. Or experienced an energy dump on the weekend, crashing in exhaustion. Or a spent a vacation recovering from your daily life, rather than relaxing.
The state of our minds and bodies during the first few days of a break can be revealing.
3. Slowing Down Before Stopping
Life can indeed feel like a treadmill—a treadmill of responsibilities and obligations. But like any treadmill, we shouldn’t impulsively leap off when we want to stop. The best way to get off a treadmill is to slow down and then step off.
The act of slowing down puts us in a frame of mind to focus on Him and His blessings. We cannot live at a breakneck speed, come to a halt suddenly, and expect to hear Him speaking to us. Our minds will still be cluttered with today’s priorities, yesterday’s conversations, and tomorrow’s concerns.
So, this week, before leaving for my trip, I started decompressing ahead of time. I decelerated the treadmill of life by unplugging from audio input—an easy way of slowing down when I can’t cut anything out of my schedule.
I cooked meals without the latest podcast, commuted to work without my favorite audiobook, and packed my suitcase without a music playlist. Creating mental space allowed me to reflect and enjoy silence with God.
I learned that we cannot appreciate the good things that God has given us, if our pace of life does not allow us to do so. Whether it’s a day off or a week-long vacation, the next time you step off the treadmill of life, slow down before you stop completely. Or better yet, set your life treadmill at a slower speed to begin with.
What is one way that you can deliberately slow the pace of your life before your next time off?
“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” Mark 6:31 (NIV)
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17