Did you get to the end of vacation last year and wonder why you were disappointed? Big expectations of adventure and rest swallowed up by Angry Birds and email?
Time think ahead, even though Memorial Day is weeks away. Classes are over for the semester (though a two-week Doctor of Ministry intensive is looming). Time to think about Summer before it is too late.
Big open stretches of time. How can we make vacations as life-giving as we need them to be?
We are not the first to face the question.
Consider the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers of the 4th century. They headed out of the city to live in caves and huts and focus on spiritual growth.
Think of it as “Outward Bound” for the inwardly inclined.
They often faced “accidie,” the “noontime demon” of lethargy and boredom.
You know accidie if you were ever a college student at 1:30 in the afternoon. Finally a stretch of time to work on that paper, but first — well, anything really. Facebook. Frisbee Golf. A nap. Isn’t General Hospital on?
Accidie is the vacation problem.
Here is how St. Anthony the Great, a pioneer among the Desert Fathers, faced it (from Benedicta Ward’s wonderful translation The Desert Christian):
When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie, and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God,
“Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?”
A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray.
It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.”
At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.”
So what was Anthony’s secret?
Self-imposed rhythm. A little bit of structure for that open-ended day.
He did not jump into one thing intensively.
He did not turn aside from everything and just stare into space.
Anthony chose two important things, and alternated between them.
Pray. Work. Repeat.
I highly recommend this for your long academic summer or your short corporate vacation. Think about a way to pray that you can slip in first thing in the morning, noon, dinner time, and bedtime. (Try a daily prayer app for your phone or tablet!) Make that the structure for your day. In between, plan your work and play. Even away from your day job there are meals to cook and dishes to wash. Think about what you need for your body and your mind as well.
- What will be a good way to invest that stretch of the morning between prayer and prayer?
- What would be refreshing and useful for the stretch in the afternoon?
- What about the evening?
If you want your vacation to be rest and restoration, structure in a life-giving rhythm.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! What helps you make open stretches of time life-giving instead of disappointing?