Reflect Your Priorities
Most of us can remember the first week of a new school year. It seems as though a rite of passage from the lazy days of summer back to the routine of the regimented school day was the assignment of the essay to be entitled “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” Depending what grade you were in, it was either called an “essay” or a “theme.” Having to complete that exercise was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing to reflect on the fun times of summer. It was a curse inasmuch as it made us long for those days of leisure compared to the seemingly interminable school year that loomed ahead. Have you ever thought about what your children would write in such an essay? Would there be anything about the Lord?
Yes, it is very important to honor the Lord on your summer vacation, but exactly how do you do that? The first thing that needs to be said is that you need to take your vacation time. A Washington Post article titled “What Does America Have against Vacation?” reveals that Americans do not use all of their vacation time.1Why? The article says the main factor is the cost. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money just to be “off.” I have found the “staycation” to be among the most relaxing.
Take your vacation time! All of it!
Assuming you will take the time off, how do you honor the Lord? When you take your vacation time, make sure that it reflects your priorities. First of all, taking the time shows that your family is a priority. If you are to shepherd them and care for them well, you need to spend not just quality time with them but quantity time, too. This is what vacations are for. The primary dynamic in every relationship is knowing and being known. How well do you really know your children? How well do they really know you? It is very important that you know your children well, inasmuch as they look to you for guidance in everything from what friends you approve, to what interests to pursue, and to what colleges to apply.
How are you going to know the best way to guide them if you don’t know them? Believe me, you learn a lot about your children when you spend longer periods of time with them. If you go for a hike, you learn whether they are determined to finish or want to give up soon after starting. If you play a game, you learn if they are gloating or gracious winners; sore or humble losers.
In being together for a longer period of time, you learn how they relate to others, too. Do they share, or are they selfish? Do they always have to be the center of attention, or are they concerned for the interests of others? Do they pitch in and help, or do they expect to be served? How do they deal with conflict? Do they bear grudges, or are they quick to repent and quick to forgive? All of these are teachable moments in which you have the opportunity to help them walk in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.
Of course, you have to be paying attention! This means staying off your “devices” except for limited times. In other words, “be present.” During these days of the coronavirus sequester, a popular hashtag is #alonetogether. Unfortunately, when families are together, even on vacation, the hashtag could be #togetheralone; that is, even when people are together, they are alone, zeroed in on their phones and tablets.
Family Is a Priority
For many years our family has gone to a cabin in the woods of north central Pennsylvania, and there is no cell service or internet. It takes a day or so to “unplug”, but the result is having more time for long conversations about the hike we were on that day or our plans for the next day. In the same category, be sure to plan things to do together. Don’t just go your way and they go theirs. You don’t need to do everything together, but be sure to plan some significant activities that you will share.
Remember that the “knowing” dynamic of relationship goes both ways. You are getting to know them, and they are getting to know you. Summer vacation gives them an opportunity to see you in action, too. It is a key time for you to be an example. This leads to another priority to be modeled on your summer vacation.
You need to demonstrate that the Lord is a priority in your life. Of course, the modeling of which we just spoke shows if you are just talking the talk or walking the walk. But another way for you to show that the Lord is a priority is what you do on Sunday. How important really is the Lord’s Day to you? How important is it for you to gather with others to worship the living God?
I was blessed with a wonderful and impactful example by my own Dad. He was the hardest-working man I have ever known, but church attendance was never compromised all year long. He worked as a rural mail carrier in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, working six days a week delivering mail, then working another part-time job to make ends meet. But he never used his busy six-day work-week as an excuse for staying home from church and Sunday School. I never heard him say this on a Sunday morning, “You go, this is the only day I have to myself.” No, the Lord was a priority for him and, therefore, for our family. That included when we were on vacation.
While your time away is a break from the regular workday routines of life, it is not a break from the priority of your relationship with the Lord.
The Lord Is a Priority
Every summer, we always went to the same mountain retreat. Just up the road was a quaint, brightly painted, white clapboard chapel nestled on a mountainside overlooking the Pine Creek Valley. It was 10:00 o' clock Sunday morning, Dad’s only Sunday away, and we were going to church. This was never in doubt. It so happened that the weekend we were away was Father’s Day. We always heard a good practical sermon from the lay pastor at the church, but the best Father’s Day sermon I ever “heard” was the one preached by Dad’s life. He didn’t talk a lot, but his actions clearly communicated the importance of keeping commitments, including his conviction to gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Granted, this might not be practical, depending on where you are, but then do something at the campsite or hotel room. Read a Scripture, make a comment, sing a song, pray. (You might want to take an offering, too, depending how expensive your vacation is!).
If family devotions are a practice at home, do your best to keep them up while you are away. If family devotions are not a practice at home, consider purchasing a family devotional guide with a short reading for each day. But don’t make a “burden” out of it!
Make it a joyful time. Who knows? Perhaps this will become a new habit at home. If personal devotions are your practice at home, keep them going, too. Sometimes while you are away you can spend a little extra time reflecting on where the Lord has brought you and considering what he has in mind for the future. The bottom line is that while your time away is a break from the regular workday routines of life, it is not a break from the priority of your relationship with the Lord.
In conclusion, it is a blessing to have paid time off. Take the time to spend with your family. That’s not the right word! Take the time to invest in your family and you will create a legacy that will be remembered long after they have left home and have families of their own. Hopefully, when they have families of their own, they will take God-honoring vacations.
Timothy Z. Witmer is the author of The Shepherd Leader at Home: Knowing, Leading, Protecting, and Providing for Your Family.
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