12 July 2011

“Vacation used to be a luxury, however, in today's world, it has become a necessity.”

Some unknown person made that statement - I heard it - and I've been pondering it....

Then last month, Brendan and I recently attended the 20th anniversary celebration of Ecole Alliance (the French language school where our children are receiving their elementary education) - and in the midst of that lovely opportunity to visit with my becoming young man without others around to distract, he mentioned that he was working on a speech for English... and his topic was the importance of rest. I asked him if he had come to any conclusions yet... hoping he would have recognized his own need to be more intentional about getting needed rest.... He hadn't (on either account).

I remember these words from a popular song during my high school years (yep... dating myself with that comment, aren't I?)
All I ever wanted.
Had to get away.
Meant to be spent alone."

We joke about Niamey becoming an expat ghost town during the summer months. Annually, the week after Sahel's graduation is a great exodus of many returning to their home countries more or less permanently... others leaving to get a break from the heat and dust for some weeks while catching up with friends and family they may not have seen for some years. Embassy and many developmental organizations send their workers out of W. Africa for a bit of an almost mandatory break. So, in the preceeding weeks, I've heard many of my friends talk about their vacation plans. Now, I read Facebook statuses of people I know visiting exotic, interesting, or cool (temperature) places. Sometimes that makes it hard to maintain a spirit of contentment when dust, heat, poor veggie selection and endless afternoons at the pool are what I have to look forward to.

But then again, there is always the joke that is so very true about needing to take a vaction to recover from vacation once you get home. I'm thankful that mornings are a bit lazier, dinner times and bedtimes are relaxed and we feel we have the freedom and space in our life right now to spontaneously invite friends over. I'm also relieved that we're catching up on budget challenges too, instead of wondering how to make ends meet in the aftermath of vacation expenses. 

So... I'm getting ready to, as I like to say, "think with my fingers" because writing is how I process things more often than not - but let me first offer this disclaimer: I am in no way intending to criticize ~ please... if God gives you the opportunity to take a vacation, enjoy it with your whole heart... or complain ~ that God has not/might not give me and my family the same sort of opportunity.

In the States, we use the word "vacation," speaking of summer vacation... or going on/taking a vacation... "vacating" our place of work/school and normal living routine for a predetermined and usually preplanned period of time, often to go somewhere else and do something centered around fun, education, new experiences, rest, etc. Many try to use vacations to encourage special family times, taking tons of photos and building memories as well as deepening relationships. For something that only consumes a small part of our year... we spend an awful lot of time talking and thinking about it. Here, in our very international community, many of our English speaking friends from other countries prefer to use the word "holiday;" our French speaking friends always and only speak of "les vacances..." vacation is always plural, where as a holiday or day off of work might not be.

According to the dictionary, vacation is:
  1. A period of time devoted to pleasure, rest, or relaxation, especially one with pay granted to an employee.
    1. A holiday.
    2. A fixed period of holidays, especially one during which a school, court, or business suspends activities.
  2. Archaic The act or an instance of vacating.
Middle English vacacioun, from Old French vacation, from Latin roots meaning freedom from occupationto be empty, at leisure.  I also read recently that the original Latin includes the idea of being still.

My Nigerien friends rarely take a "vacation," at least as we would define it. Our used-to-be guard Celestin goes back to his village to prepare, plant and then work in his fields so his family will have food for the next year. Teachers at the French school transport part of their salaries to members of their families living in villages or take continuing education classes. Safana, my good friend, travels to Togo to check on the health of her mother and mother-in-law, braving public transportation through dangerous mountainous regions where accidents are frequent and often fatal.

Our reality? When we come to Niamey, I'm ready for 4 years here... and "vacations" consist of driving outside of town to the dunes, traispsing down to the river for an evening picnic, or heading to the pool of the afternoon for a break from the never ending heat. It is just too expensive to fly our family anywhere... Given the current political climate in our region it isn't really safe for us to drive too many places and with the price of gas, driving isn't a whole lot cheaper than flying... Our kids' school schedules only give us time during the month of July and by that time, everyone else is gone so we are often the last ones left, holding down the fort...

Frankly, the money question (should we dispense this much in this manner) and our accountability to those who support us plays a huge factor. We have many who say "Go!" We have others who want to know how we justify going out to eat french fries with our kids once every couple of weeks. I know it is a balance and I am not going to be able to please everyone... but I do think we should be accountable.

I wonder what God thinks about pleasure and vacations. He commands us to take time for rest and sets the example Himself. Yet all this time, effort and expense devoted to more or less "selfish" pleasure... my pleasure, or the wishes of my family? God certainly wants us to find pleasure in Him, in people, in His creation, in our hope and anticipation of a future He has prepared. Is a traveling vacation a part of that? I think it could be... but I'm not sure that in our family's past, we've correctly appropriated funds for vacation purposes or that our goals haven't been purely self-oriented. Believe me, I do recognize completely the need for a break and sometimes that requires getting away. But how do we do so in a way that rests, reuvenates, includes wise stewardship of God's resources, satisfies those to whom we are accountable, builds memories and invests in people and eternity?

So, all of that writing to say I don't know any easy answers.

I'd love for someone to address any or all of these questions - from your perspective! 

Is vacation a selfish luxury? a verifiable necessity? probably some mixture of both?
(Don't take the easy way out and say both unless you explain... give examples.)

What do YOU think?

What Biblical guidelines to you see?

Any advice or suggestions?

1 comment:

  1. I think it depends on a lot of things - primarily attitude - if you feel like you "deserve" a vacation and throw a hissy fit when you don't get it - or how you define "vacation" - by that I mean, do you include visiting family or friends in "vacation"? We haven't been on a "just our family" vacation, ever - but we did take a few days last summer for a "family focus" week that was more of a staycation when we tried to do fun things locally to make some memories and Michael took a day off work. We had a blast, saved money and it was much more relaxing than packing up everybody and heading somewhere. It was really great. But we've also enjoyed road trips and flights to see family and friends when God provides a great deal - and I don't think of that as a frivolous expenditure.

    I guess I'd feel differently if I took a week away from my family to do something solely for my own pleasure, all by myself, but when I'm spending time with my husband, my kids, my extended family, friends that God has blessed me with - I view that as building relationships and that's a priority! Sometimes we just need time away from the daily routine to be still, or to re-evaluate. Is that vacation?


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