This year my husband and I decided to take an entire week off from everything and explore Key West. It’s been a while since we took such a long vacation. In fact, the last time we took an entire week and flew somewhere was our honeymoon nearly six years ago. So, it was long overdue.
Now I’m content to lay on the beach all day every day for a week’s vacation, but Jim . . . not so much. First of all, he doesn’t like sand. He doesn’t like to feel dirty, and the salt water can have that effect when it dries on your skin in the sun, leaving microscopic granules of salt everywhere. He doesn’t like how the sand seems to follow you off the beach—in your shoes, on your clothes, in your hair, and the strange bit you can’t get off your ankle.
But the worst part of a beach vacation for him is simply lying on the beach, doing nothing. For me, this is the best part. I spread out on my towel with my Kindle reading In the Garden of Beasts and Hemingway (after all, our hotel was directly across the street from his home), and breathed deeply of the salty air filled with the smell of coconut sunscreen and minty mojitos and strawberry daiquiris, and my soul was happy. The only activity I need is a few walks into the water to cool off throughout the day.
One of Jim’s strengths, though, is achieving, and he wants to know that he has accomplished something each day. So he planned an excursion to Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas (a national park 70 miles west of Key West) and set goals to ride our rental bikes all around the island. He took note of restaurants to try, historical markers to see, and tourist attractions to visit.
All of those were great things, but I wish he’d just lie on the beach some more.
It’s amazing, though, when we take these week-long vacations, to see him actually relax. Because after the first few days of planning and wanting to do everything, he finally realizes there’s plenty of time, and I can actually see his shoulders melt a little, the stress leaving his body. And that’s when he starts toactually read while lying on the beach—a book he bought at least three years ago, by the way. And he actually sleeps in. And he actually walks a little slower. It’s an amazing transformation to witness.
But it’s over all too soon. Though it took him about three days to relax, it took him about three seconds to tense back up again on our last day in Key West. As we packed up our clothes and our new trinkets and souvenirs, I could see it flooding back into his shoulders. In an effort to visit a few last shops, he’d already planned how to visit them in the most efficient way. He ate his lunch quickly, even though we still had an hour before having to leave for the airport. And even though the airport is the smallest I’ve ever been through, he further tensed up as we went through security, placing his boat shoes and wallet and sunglasses in the gray bin, symbolically leaving vacation behind.
On the flight home, I felt myself tensing up too as I started to think about getting groceries and washing laundry, and it reminded me why taking a break is so important. I’ve realized this year that I’m a lot tenser internally on a daily basis than I realize. For the most part, my job is low stress, and I have great family and friends to make me laugh. But I also take things really personally, letting them deeply affect me. Whenever I get a massage, the therapist spends a lot of time on my shoulders and neck, working out all the stress I’ve held in.
I do leisurely activities. I craft and sew and bake and read and write. I spend time lying outside. But it’s hard to really relax, to let all my cares rest on God instead of my own shoulders. And it takes time to get to that point—in Jim’s case, about three days. It makes sense why Jesus took the time to say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will have its own worries.”
Last night as I lay in bed, I felt the worries of Monday start creeping in. I don’t worry much, but I actually had a stress dream last night thinking about heading back to work after such a long break. I made it a point to not check e-mail over vacation (which is great!), but that means there will be a lot waiting for me when I get back. But God says take it one day at a time, so that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to hold on to this vacation bliss for as long as I can. Even now, I’m sitting in our backyard, the breeze on my face, our dog sitting next to me in the jade grass.
As I move forward with regular life, I’m going to insert some pieces of vacation along the way. I’m going to rest and not think about work. I’m going to say “no” to some activities so I never have too much to do. I’m going to try new things regularly. I’m going to slowly make food and enjoy the process as much as the result. I’m going to lay out with a good book sometimes. I’m going to listen to the birds in the yard while I sip my coffee. I’m going to spend less time on primping and more time on enjoying the day. I’m going to be fully present as much as possible. And I’m going to set aside Sabbath time on a regular basis.