Randy Thompson: The Spirituality of Taking a Vacation

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. Photo by Shawn Harquall
Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. Photo by Shawn Harquall

Note from CM: Randy and Jill Thompson know that people need to take breaks from the pressures of their normal lives, get a change of scenery, and find refreshment from time to time. That’s why they started Forest Haven, a Christian organization whose purpose is to provide a rural, quiet place of healing hospitality and spiritual refreshment for Christian ministers and missionaries, and their spouses, who need time away from their responsibilities to draw closer to God.

They ministered to us when we were in New England a couple of summers ago, and I’m glad to read here that they took some time recently to find some rest for themselves.

• • •

The Spirituality of Taking a Vacation
by Randy Thompson

We just returned from a trip to Nova Scotia, and I realized something important about vacations: you cannot arrive at relaxation until you leave behind your normal routine. In other words, changing your geography changes your attitude, outlook, and even your emotions.

So why is that?

For starters, to leave behind the place where your normal routine takes place is to leave behind the demands, expectations and responsibilities that go along with that place. One might argue that you don’t need to get away in order to relax, and there is some truth in that argument. But, when you try to relax at home, you are surrounded by reminders of things that need to be done. Years ago, trying to have a quiet time at home, I discovered this with a vengeance. As soon as I “relaxed,” I noticed dust bunnies I never noticed before. Casually looking out the window, I noticed the lawn getting shaggy and needed to be mowed. I noticed the house plants getting droopy and needing water. Then I began to think of people I should call or email, while led into thoughts of upcoming appointments and commitments. I was completely surrounded by reminders of things I needed to do. Not only that, I felt the urge to act on all those reminders. At that point, relaxing became such an effort that it was more relaxing to get up and get busy!

That is why going away matters. In the case of our Nova Scotia trip, we took the CAT ferry from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, a five and a half hour ocean voyage. I brought along my camera, binoculars, and reading matter. However, I was rather astonished at how quickly I arrived at a state of semi-comatose bliss simply staring out the window and watching the ever-moving ocean and the occasional fishing boat. I did do some reading, and I did take a few pictures, but mainly, I stared out the window. The wonderful thing was, even if there was something I needed to do, I couldn’t do it. If there was someone I needed to talk to, I couldn’t. I had left my life behind. (And besides, my cell wouldn’t work in Canada.)

For the next ten days, I didn’t once think of what needed to be done back home or back at the church. There was no point; I couldn’t do anything about it. I was too far away. Instead, I was taken up by our new surroundings–Shelburne and Lunenberg, Peggy’s Cove, Cape George, the Ceilidh Trail, the Cabot Trail, Bras d’Or, Grand Pre, and, finally, Digby. (By the way, if you think you know how to pronounce “Ceilidh,” think again!) It was as though “real life” was emptied out of me, and another, restful and joyful life was pumped into me.

The point is, moving your body geographically from where it always is to some place different affects your whole life. If you’ve moved your body from Connecticut to Maine for a couple weeks, it makes no sense at all to worry about mowing the lawn in Connecticut; there’s nothing you can do about it. All the Connecticut people whom you think can’t survive without you will muddle through just fine. (Vacations undercut our sense of self-importance in this way.) The church committees will do their business without you, and will do just fine. Worship will be led, sermons will be preached, and you will be completely out of it.

Vacations, of course, come to end. (If they didn’t, they’d only be the next chapter of “real life.”) But, the great thing about vacations is, you get tired of them after awhile and want to go back to your “real life.” A ten day car trip in Nova Scotia left us happy but tired, and ready to head home (and not drive anywhere for awhile). I’ve noticed that all our vacations are like that. For many years, we spent two weeks on Keyes Pond in Maine’s Lakes District. It was heaven, but, by the end of the two weeks, we had enough of swimming, hiking and lounging around and were ready to head home, rested and happy.

And always, home and “real life” looked and felt better on our return than they did before the vacation! Somehow, vacations enable us to re-enter “real life” and do what we need to do in a way that seems to require less effort. Life’s demands feel less demanding and life’s pains feel a little less painful.

So, all this is to say, use your vacation time! If you don’t have money for a cruise, borrow a tent and look for a pretty campground several hours away. Or, maybe something like this might be possible: while in Connecticut, we lived in a beautiful, rural part of the Litchfield Hills. For years, while we were away on vacation in Maine, pastor friends of ours, serving inner city churches, used our home for their vacation while we were away. (One of the couples who stayed at our place we never met face to face!) It may take some planning and creativity, but getting away is worth it!

Of course, for pastors, there are places like Forest Haven.

Finally, make this a matter of prayer. God knows our need for getting away. He was, after all, the One who rested on the seventh day of creation. If finances are an issue, take it up with the Lord. God is generous, usually through His people. Our Nova Scotia trip was partially made possible by the kind generosity of a brother in Christ. Our first two vacations in Maine were the anonymous (at the time) gift of my prayer partner.

It may not seem “spiritual” to pray for a vacation. But, our many visits to Maine were often as much a spiritual retreat as they were a family vacation, so think of your vacation as a yearly Sabbath. Remember James’ words: “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).

[Note: A while back, we posted a link to an article on the Forest Haven Facebook page on why pastors need vacations (“Three Reasons Pastors Should Use All Their Vacation Time”). You may want to look at it, or, maybe, send it to a pastor you know!]

• • •

Photo by Shawn Harquall at Flickr. Creative Commons License

23 thoughts on “Randy Thompson: The Spirituality of Taking a Vacation

  1. w, you’ve always been welcome here and you have made good contributions. I haven’t always understood what you were writing or how it fit with the discussion we were having, but that was alright. The community has welcomed you and affirmed you on countless occasions. Today’s attacks and bitter words surprised and saddened me. Because of other commitments I had not even had the chance to read down to the end of the comments thread until a friend sent me an email and brought your words to my attention. Internet Monk operates by a system of commenting rules and these were outside the bounds. It’s as simple as that.


  2. People seem to view pastors as three-year olds view parents — always there, always available.


  3. I agree, and one time I was naïve enough to leave my food bundled up on the picnic table. OH, the dozen shining eyes that glowed from the little bandit faces when I heard munching in the night and turned my flashlight on! (I turned it off rapidly and let the raccoons have at it.)


  4. Sometimes harshness is honesty, w. Let it out.

    Alone is rarely good. Solitude for a season, but not alone. I also know what being alone feels like too well, and in the end, it’s death.

    Maybe we all need a vacation. Let’s go take one.


  5. Glad you enjoy tent camping!
    I’m OK with it, but give me a roof, screens, and running water, please.

    The last time we went tent camping, and it was ages ago, my wife and older son were joined, in the tent, by a skunk who came in looking for nibblies. Fortunately, my son was asleep, and my wife had a profound experience of prayer, which consisted of begging the Lord to do anything to keep me and our younger son from coming back until the skunk found his way out. Which, finally, he did.

    Nature is a good thing, but not inside the tent!


  6. can’t remember the last time I took a vacation/ The cats on the mountain they need fed and they wait for me/ There were drop offs this year and one carries little ones inside her. Little Blackie was hers and I call her hair brush for her taill looks like one when she greets. Little Blackie brightened my heart so she isn’t there no more. Someone took her home with them. I should be happy but only in pretend. These songs lately go thru my heart. as I realize it’s only a start. These places I’ve seen are but just part. This place is slowly breaking my heart. I realize inside he couldn’t love me any more. No matter what i have left in store. whether i was rich or i was poor. To this deity in heaven more is still more.

    Now I know man who emptied the gun in his hand
    on A woman he swore to love to the end
    Now I’m not one to understand
    How you could do that to one you call friend

    I did it too and do it to this day
    on wooden beams that’s where he lays
    took a place where I have to stay
    i ate my leg off just to get away

    these are the songs that go thru my mind
    last in eternity flowing thru time
    somewhere in the bread and the wine
    i see this love that could be this kind

    more and more it pours from this heart and where it starts it never stops. although these tears and sadnes must go. I was just hoping that you might know.


  7. We’re there every August, this year from 8/13-8/20.

    Who do you know there? We’ve gotten to know several folks: Jeff Carlsen, Patrick Bergman, to name two.


  8. I have forwarded that Lark News article to my burned-out preacher writing partner.

    The only part of that article that is fictional is the eBay posting. Everything else in it I’ve heard for real from my writing partner.


  9. Nice post, Randy. Blessings upon you and Forest Haven.

    Our annual family get-away is to Cannon Beach, OR. We used to stay at a hotel right on the beach (right off Haystack Rock…look it up if you want to see a gorgeous sight), but then discovered that two separate family friends of ours stayed at the Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center, so we tried that one summer. We’ve been hooked on that ever since.

    There’s something about the surf and beaches that I find exceedingly soothing.


  10. Randy, you are certainly right about trying to relax at home. Just impossible — the whole house, yard, phone, pets, and computer scream into my brain constantly.

    I’m very glad clergy people have a place for down-time. I can’t imagine trying to respond pastorally to people 24/7; I’d be howling after 30 minutes! 🙂 I’m reminded of this wonderful article from Lark News:


    The last time I went tent-camping, it was only a few hours away, but simply wonderful. I had to gather my own wood, make my own fire (but not shoot my own food!), and just gaze at the beautiful woods and lake for hours. So perfect.


  11. I live in Washington DC whose chief export is BS and all conversations take place at maximum volume cause the louder you talk the smarter you are dontcha know? So I read the article at the link “Sound Check: The Quietest Place on Earth” under Recommended Reading from this here web site with a great deal of interest.

    Everybody just shut up already for a second! Wouldn’t have to go anywhere. Wouldn’t cost anything. Just sit quietly and listen to the silence.

    Could we endure it?


  12. You may someday want to give one of Canada’s Atlantic Provinces a try. Since they’re in Atlantic Time (not Eastern), you’ll have a four hour buffer from the West Coast. And, weirdly enough, Newfoundland has its own time zone–a half hour later than Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.


  13. This is so necessary to hear in our culture. Thank you for posting this always timely reminder.

    We just returned from 10 days in Massachusetts (w/a side trip to Maine!), and New England has always been our favorite vaca place–aside from Sicily! Now that our married daughter lives there in Beverly, we have even more reason to be there more often…yea! (We rent our own home while there)

    Because my husband is self-employed, it’s difficult/challenging for him to get away (‘cuz, you know, Western Civilization just may collapse if he doesn’t answer every single customer call). The 3 hour time difference between CA and east coast helps to ‘get away’ and every time we are there, I see him truly be able to let ‘business’ go and he does relax (he returns emails, but that’s about it). The best places for us to vaca are those without Internet (hence, Sicily), and limited cell service.

    God gave us the sabbath for a reason….there is importance and spirituality in ‘retreating’ or vacationing. As written above, we find refreshment in leaving behind the routine life, and find appreciation in that routine when we return.
    Although we travel a lot, there is nothing like the east coast for deep breathing, ocean beach sitting, antiquing, great food, and rest. I sleep the best whenever I am there.

    (BTW–this particular trip was a family trip–our son and girlfriend came up from DC, so we rented a house big enough for all of us right on the water … The best.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: