As I mentioned in previous posts, we have been on vacation, travelling in Quebec with our daughter and son-in-law. We had a great trip–we visited some great places, saw some really exciting things, ate some great meals and had a great time together talking and laughing and sharing. We ate too much of the wrong things generally at the wrong time; we slept in and started the day late and finished it late. We didn’t have internet most of the time and generally didn’t miss it. In short, it was a great vacation.
But as we were on the final section of the drive home, the urge to drive faster and faster became stronger and stronger–fortunately, my wife, who likes cruise control, was driving at that point and therefore able to resist the urge to speed up. When we pulled in the driveway, we were both glad to be home, even if it meant engaging in the tedious process of unpacking, putting away and picking up pieces. We were glad to be home.
So, we were glad to be away and glad to be home. I think it is interesting that most of us have similar reactions to vacations and being away. Unless the reason for being away is painful or forced, we tend to like the change and distraction and difference–at least for a while. But there seems to be a somewhat hard to define limit to the change and distraction and difference. We need a certain amount of time–but if we have even one day longer, the whole thing changes character and becomes less exciting and less interesting and maybe even irritating.
The real difficulty, at least for me, is figuring out the optimal time for being away. On the whole, I like where we live, I like my work, I like my surroundings. I like my routine–schedules have a way of helping me find peace and stability. I need breaks and trips away now and then, but they need to be breaks and not the norm. And they need to be the right length–to short and I don’t get the break and too long begins to undercut the benefits of being away.
One of the benefits of self-knowledge is the ability to understand our own needs and take them into consideration as we deal with the details of our lives. I have never been a great fan of the whole extreme self-denial and even self-abuse school of Christianity. Living on 2 hours of sleep accompanied by bread and water once a week might look good in the biography of some saint or other but as a real life style, it doesn’t do much for anyone.
Knowing who I am and what works for me and allowing myself to take my needs and desires into consideration allows me to be better at being me and at doing what I need to do. Knowing that I need several vacation periods during the year in order to be effective in my work is important. If I try to keep going beyond my limits, denying the basic realities of who I am, I end up tired, grumpy, frustrated and increasingly ineffective in my ministry. Extreme self-denial doesn’t make me more spiritual–in fact, it does just the opposite.
Certainly, some self-denial is good for me. While I like chocolate, a diet of chocolate isn’t going to do me much good in the long run. I really like coffee–but too much of that great stuff ends up creating all sorts of problems for me. I also enjoy eating–but too much eating tends to make my clothes tight and stretches my belt.
The issue seems to me to be finding the balance between healthy indulgence and healthy denial. Our just completed vacation worked because it was the perfect length and the perfect amount of self-indulgence. But now, we are back home and I can eat less, sleep properly and even exercise regularly–and even more, I am ready to get back to work with a renewed and rested spirit. While I didn’t do anything in the way of work while I was away, I am ready to get back to it, with all sorts of idea and plans and energy.
May the peace of God be with you.