Five ways to have a richer, more joyful vacation

Vacation offers the possibility that, for at least a week or two, it really *can* be “all about me.” Relax and indulge in what we want to do when we want to do it.

But, if we were to pursue a vacation with Jesus at the center, might we actually find more joy? What would it look like? Here are five ways you can have a richer, more joyful vacation:

Plan and Pray

Part of the fun of vacation is planning what to do. Even letting the kids help pick out places to see and things to do. It ramps up everyone’s expectations and anticipation of the fun to come.

Include prayer in the process. Ask God for travelling mercies and more. Ask him to guide your decisions. Make the most of your time together as a family. Ask him to give you rich, meaningful connections with friends and family you will visit. We asked friends at home to pray with us for that on our annual trip to see friends and family back in Texas in April. And we prayed more purposefully for it ourselves.

By the end of the trip we were struck by just how “sparkling” our conversations had been—full of laughter, fresh ideas and mutual encouragement. Ask, ask, ask, Jesus tells us. He really can infuse “ordinary” encounters with extraordinary grace.

Our son has been going out with a lovely young woman for over a year and a half. She’s just finishing her Master’s degree in social work with an internship in hospice. We have very few opportunities to get to know her. One of the highlights of our trip was a dinner conversation with her.

I thought to ask her if her experience caring for the dying had given her greater insight into human nature—did she think we were  immaterial souls and material bodies?

She responded by telling us a story. One of her patients told her that when it came time for her to die she wanted her makeup on and her hair fixed. When it seemed that the end was nearing, when her son was in the room with her, my son's girlfriend fixed her hair and lovingly applied her makeup. She leaned over and said, “It’s ok…now you can go. Your son is here. He loves you. You have your hair done and your makeup on. You’re all ready. You can go now.” And within seconds she breathed her last breath.

Her story bears witness that we are so much more than our bodies. And that it can make a tremendous difference if we are willing to give the soul of our loved ones our blessing and release them…and tell them so.

It was a story I passed on to my Mom who is struggling with that very decision. My Dad is in hospice and as I related the story she wept. The story both challenged and comforted her.

These were such significant, tender conversations—a gift of great meaning.

Savor the presence and beauty of Jesus

Vacation usually takes us out of the world we are used to and into new places. Notice the beauty of the sky, the trees, the wildlife. The wind in your hair on a boat ride. The sweep of the landscape. The riot of wildflowers by the side of the road. Journal it. Enjoy it as a gift from Jesus—an expression of his beauty. Whisper your thanks to him. Share your thanks in the family circle.

One night after dinner in the Texas hill country, we sat out on the deck and watched the stars come out. But even more magical was what came out on the hillside behind us—lightening bugs. Not the slow-flying, slow-lighting B-52 bugs I’m used to. But fighter plane bugs that zipped and zapped. Maybe a hundred of them twinkling all over the hillside. Another gift.

Find early morning or other time to be alone with Jesus. Reading his word. Praying it back to him. Don’t let the activities squeeze him out. Take time to truly rest in his loving presence. One of my favorite stories from Philip Yancey comes from his late, frustrating night in an airport. A silver-haired older woman listened to him vent and then gently said, “Phillip, do you ever just stop and let God love you? It’s pretty important, I think.”

Take along a rich and meaningful book

Page-burners are fun. Airplane fiction can get your pulse up. But there’s no greater joy than seeing God at work. For a big dose of exactly that I recommend Eric Metaxas’ new book, Miracles.

The first half is a wonderful discussion of the miracle of creation, why God doesn’t answer all our prayers with miracles and a few other intriguing topics. The second half is great vacation reading, story after story of amazing works by our mighty and loving God—conversions, healings, restored marriages…but my favorite just might be the distraught University administrator who had lost her keys. Keys to labs, storage, offices and much more–all hung on a ring with a large red heart.

She loses them on Friday. By Monday she is desperate. She drops her kids at her children’s nanny and asks her to pray for her. In the nanny’s front yard, standing by the car, the nanny grabs her hands, prays, they look up…and there, in the middle of her windshield, smack over the driver’s sight line, are the keys, red heart and all.

Save what you’ll spend

The joy of a splendid vacation can drown in the tide of bills that wash in afterwards. Estimate your vacation costs. Set aside 1/12 of the total each month. Watch your expenses as you go. Pay in full from savings when the bills arrive. The relief of splurging within your means will most certainly add to your joy!

Seek to serve

Vacation is a fun time to be served—restaurant waiters, maid service, airline stewards, kitchen chefs—so many people work so we can have fun. Be sure to tip generously.  But more than that, seek ways to serve others on your trip.

Some families take “Vacations with a purpose” where they go to spread the gospel or build a church or a water well, or put on a vacation Bible school or medical clinic for children who are poor and needy.

Maybe you’d like to take even one day of your vacation to help aging relatives spruce up their homes or replace screen doors or mend fences. On our vacation Jack mowed and mowed for his folks. I swept porches. It was a small token of our love for them that meant so very much. It seemed to open doors for more conversation and drew us closer together.

Cook special meals for others loaded with TLC.

When you return home make picture albums on Shutterfly.com or other websites and mail them to your hosts and friends.

Loving God, loving others, saving, asking, serving—the way of Jesus has been given to us so that our joy may be full. It’s not a 50-week offer. It includes our vacation joy too!

Share your ideas…what do you do to experience a more joyful and meaningful vacation?

Lael Arrington

Faith and Culture: Live wisely  l  Love well


Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.