“I’m on vacation. Have you ever thought about what a funny idea that is? We work or study hard all year, just so that for a couple of weeks we can . . . . vacate? Leave our house, our desk, our work station empty? That’s what we’re looking forward to, emptiness? You’d think we’d emphasize the positive, talking about the exciting place we’re going to and what adventures we’ll experience there. But no, we say we’re going to vacate. We say we’re looking forward to getting away for a while, as if what we’re getting away to is unimportant. I’m suspicious that some people may be vacating to a vacant vacation.

I recently listened to an NPR interview of Cindy S. Aron, author of a book entitled Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States (Oxford University Press, 1999). She reminded listeners that America began with a strict Puritan work ethic: “Work was extremely important, and idleness was suspect.” The idea of going away on vacation began in the early part of the 19th century, and it was mostly for wealthy people traveling to another location for their health. By the middle of that century, doctors were beginning to teach and write about the value for everyone of taking a break from the constant pressure of work. In urban churches, ministers began to expound about the need for spiritual as well as physical rejuvenation, and some denominations developed campgrounds, where Bible teaching could take place in a leisurely, change-of-pace atmosphere.

Ms. Aron pointed out that the expansion of railroads further opened up vacation options: “There was also an infrastructure growing up. The railroad was realizing if they could get people to the shore, they could also build a hotel at the other end, and you begin to see a whole vacationing industry develop.” It was not until the 1920s that ”some working-class men and women” began to have vacation benefits with their employment, but usually they weren’t able to save enough money to fund a family trip. Ms. Aron concluded the interview with this summary: “If you look at the history, you see a constant tension between work and leisure in American culture. We have this love-hate relationship with our vacations, and I think we’ve had it from the beginning. Some people probably really like work better; being on vacation means dealing continually with your family, sometimes in ways some people would rather not.”

Getting ready for a vacation can be hard work: making reservations, arranging for pets to be cared for, packing, loading the car. Coming home after a vacation can also mean a lot of hard work: unpacking, doing laundry, catching up on paying bills. In between the hard work of going away and the hard work of coming home, there had better be something good that happens. We can’t afford to have vacant vacations. We need to fill our time of refreshment and renewal with inspiring, positive, memorable experiences. Interacting with family and friends, as well as interacting with the beauties of God’s creation, can bring healing to our souls. Let’s make sure such enriching activities fill the vacuum in our vacations so they are never vacant.

I hope your vacation is so full of good experiences that you will be able to sum it up in the psalmist’s words,


— Pastor George Van Alstine