Vacation Lessons

We weren’t fully prepared for the cold and wind.

I mean, we knew the weather forecast ahead of time and packed sufficient layers. We had talked to park rangers and mapped out our plan. We were logistically prepared. But we weren’t emotionally prepared for 4.2 miles of hiking with temperatures in the mid-40s, with winds about 20 miles per hour.

Still, we zipped up our jackets and forged ahead.

My boys whined like the wind for the first mile. There were several moments when I legitimately wondered about scrapping our plans and turning around. And that was just in the first quarter-mile. Cor kept worrying about being attacked by bears. Elliot kept fussing about the way he’d rather be in bed. Olivia was stoic and silent for the most part, but the hood of her sweatshirt was so tightly drawn around her face that only her nose, lips, and the brim of her cap were visible.

Marci and I did our best to keep everyone moving, ascending the slopes of Yellowstone’s Bunsen Peak. We hoped that we could persevere through the mental and physical barriers to experience the sublime joy and refreshment of hiking through some of the most beautiful natural scenery on God’s green earth. Still, we didn’t know. We were walking — or hiking — by faith.

About halfway up the mountain, though, something shifted.

The boys got a look in their eye and started serving as the “gas pedal” for our group, instead of the “brake.” Olivia noticed a grove of dwarf pine trees, smiled, and suggested we call it the “Tiny Piney Forest” (later to be lovingly rebranded the “Tiny Piney Whiney Forest” because of its position at the tail end of our Ascent of Complaint). Elliot chucked a snowball at me on a corner of the trail. Marci and Cor practiced their specially-choreographed handshake for a mountaintop celebration.

By the time we made it to the top of Bunsen Peak, the temperatures were even colder and the wind howled even harder than at the trailhead — but our experience of the elements was entirely different. We yelled and laughed into the wind. We took a few photographs. We found a sheltered spot and ate some Lemonheads and special trail mix. And then we enjoyed a happy hike back to the car, noticing things we had failed to observe during our whined-ing way up.

Our hike up Bunsen Peak this morning was a special experience that seemed to capture echoes of our family vacation as a whole.

The first few days, as we started driving out west, we were all irritable and argumentative. Sure, we had fun swimming in hotel swimming pools, but then we squirmed and squawked about the way our skin felt itchy and tight. Of course we enjoyed treating ourselves to rich meals in special restaurants along the way, but our digestive systems were unsettled by it all. We had other memorable moments, too.

We soaked up the sun in the Badlands of South Dakota…

We played basketball in the shadow of the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming…

We watched the prairie grasses waft and wave across the hillsides at the historical site marking the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana…

But we didn’t have a rhythm. Honestly, we didn’t really hit our “vacation stride” until the last couple of days. Almost a week into our road trip. It’s surprisingly difficult to go from a sprint to a standstill in life. But it’s so, so worth it.

I know that our family is privileged to have a good amount of vacation time, and to be able to take it in relatively long stretches. Not everyone is so lucky. But I’m learning that there are (unintentional) statements being made in the way that a pastor practices rest and recreation.

I know of another pastor who was once asked, “How much vacation time should a pastor take in a given year?” And his response was, “All of it.” He claimed it was necessary for his own soul, for his family’s well-being, and for the well-being of his church. He elaborated: “We come and develop this complex that our church can now no longer live without us for a week or two.  Using all your vacation time given to you forces others to step up in your absence, shows them they can make it without you for a time, and reminds the pastor most of all that God is not utterly dependent on him for this church to function. We are expendable and we need regular jolts of humility to remind us of that.”

I’m glad that Jesus is the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the world. Not me. Resting well is an act of Gospel proclamation. I don’t always do it perfectly, but I’m glad for those moments when I can persevere through the mental and physical barriers to experience the sublime joy and refreshment of a good vacation.

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