My recent vacation was a gift in every way. Seeing our oldest daughter in her world was a gift. Being in the places I travel for work, without working (and without snow), was a gift. Receiving the vacation as a gift from the church I lead was deeply encouraging. Enjoying fellowship with close friends who live in Europe was a gift. And, significantly, there was the gift of a lesson learned….
We live in a world of objectives where success is defined, often, by “how much”: How much work can you get done on your shift? How many pages did you write today? How many sales contacts did you make? How many things did you check off your bucket list this year? I set my week up by naming the roles of my life (teacher/writer – leader/visionary – shepherd – family – personal well being) and filling each of those boxes with goals that will move me forward in my life calling. That way, it’s rare for me to find myself sitting around saying, “what should I do today?” I just look at the list, and BOOM! I’m off to do something.
I took this mindset into my vacation. Bike through vineyards in France. Hike from hut to hut to hut in the Alps. Climb in the Dachstein on a Klettersteig. Paraglide on the last day with my friend. There – that ought to maximize my time in Europe!
Well, things didn’t exactly work out that way. Instead of biking through vineyards in France, how about cornfields in Germany? Klettersteig day? Rainning. Not possible. We spent the rainy day sleeping in, wandering shops, visiting friends, reading, and taking our daughter out for supper. Paragliding? Again, it was raining and too cold, so we enjoyed a day hike to a hut, where we drank cocoa and bonded with mountain sheep.
In summary, the trip was less than I’d planned, but perfect in every way. God the weather maker imposed a marvelous rhythm on our time, and it taught me something priceless: I don’t need to do everything. I don’t need to “maximize” my life by driving myself to accumulate: experiences, possessions, influence. In looking back, not only at vacation, but at the sometimes “type A” way I approach life, I began to see some important truths:
1. My drive is too often born from fear and insecurity rather than obedience – I’m afraid of missing something, afraid that if I don’t do, I won’t be significant. Somehow this trip reminded me that I won’t do everything, and that I’m significant not because I do, but because God loves me.
Over breakfast one morning a friend was saying, “Did you know there’s a 33 day ‘hut to hut’ trip from Lucerne in Switzerland to Venice, straight through the Alps?”
Of course my first thought was, “When do we go?”, but right on the heels of that, my mind reminded me, “but you want to hike the Pacific Crest trail from Canada to Mexico, and climb all the Pacific Volcanoes, and…” On the train later that morning, I realized how unhappy I make myself when I set random lofty goals, goals I’ll never reach, goals that, when I don’t reach them, will make me feel lazy. I learned, that day, to stop this nonsense. I’m finite. I don’t need to climb every volcano, let alone hike to Venice. Like Martha, I’ve grown “concerned about many things”: church life, teaching at Bible schools, investing time in developing countries with pastors, writing, becoming best friends with all my neighbors, hiking from Canada to Mexico, and now from Switzerland to Italy. And then I said to my insecure, ambitious self: “STOP! YOU ARE KILLING ME!” – And I did. I moved from the many things of Martha back to where rest can be found, which is learning again to become occupied with the “one thing” of Mary.
2. Life is infinite. One of things that’s liberating is the reminder that we don’t need to miss out on anything. My moment of perfection in Alps (that’s the picture above) was sort of like a movie trailer; a reminder that’s there more, and even better, yet to come. Life’s not finite basket of heartbeats that we’re going to use up and then we decompose. Life’s eternal and “the greatest hits” will be there later. I can, perhaps hike to Venice in eternity, and if not, there’ll be something so much better than I won’t even miss it.
3. Saying no is liberating. When we woke to rain on that planned day of climbing, I couldn’t understand why I was so relieved. This was, of all things, the “highest” (pun intended) on my list. What I learned that day is that my lists are often random rather than thoughtful, lustful rather than purposeful. My lists are sometimes borne of my desire to be infinite, rather than my humble “yes” that comes in response to God’s promptings. I needed, not a challenging climb up a rocky ridge after 3 days of hiking/scrambling/climbing in the Alps; I needed a shower, and a book, and the maturity to say “enough”.
And that, as much as anything, was a gift (tariff free) that I’ve brought home from vacation.
O Lord of all rhythms;
Thanks you for day and night, winter and summer, sleep and activity, work and rest. Teach us to listen for your voice, that we might learn the rhythms of grace, and so display your beauty, hope, creativity, and rest, in the precious gift of the days you’ve given us. Amen
Here are some highlights, if you have 10 minutes.