“The Grace of Doing Nothing”
I am not very good at doing “nothing.” I am easily distracted; fidgety; and deep down carry the deceptive belief that I should always be “productive.” Productivity is a lie we tell ourselves so that we may feel valuable. Nevertheless, I struggle with this lie and have spent too much of my life shouldering this onerous burden with busyness.
Family vacations have taught me a different path; a path of passive resistance.
I did not grow up with a family that took regular vacations. It was a luxury of time we did not have on a dairy farm that operates with milkings twice a day, every day. I can remember going on four distinct vacations with members of my family. When I was 8 years old we took a vacation to Disney World. The park had just opened a couple of years earlier and it is still one of my favorite childhood memories. A few years later my grandparents took us to the Smoky Mountains for a few days. Those mountains still have a hold on me. The first time I remember seeing the ocean was on a quick trip to Daytona Beach. Another time I went to Destin Beach with my maternal grandparents. The ocean holds its own kind of mystery and I never tire in hearing the tide come in.
These four vacations all occurred within the first twelve years of my life, and I am grateful for each one. After that, if we wanted to see the mountains or go to the beach we had to find a way on our own. Time was a luxury that just did not allow for those kinds of family outings. We did have the luxury of family, and that is a gift that cannot be reduced to a photograph or postcard or souvenir.
Every year of our marriage (28 years thus far!) we have enjoyed both the luxury of time and family to enjoy a vacation. The term vacation literally means to vacate or take freedom from something. Vacations are a break in routine; a change in the monotony of expectations. Vacations are also a time of rest; a season to simply “be.” They give us the privilege of, as Richard Niebuhr phrases it, “the grace of doing nothing.”
Although as a child our family rarely went anywhere beyond the county line, we all knew the luxury of slowing down and resting. Some of my favorite memories in the summer included sitting in lawn chairs in the front yard and talking about nothing in particular while the cows sauntered nearby chewing their cud. It was pleasure enough to rest, to hear stories, and to share dreams and hopes for the future.
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
Around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle
(Wendell Berry, Sabbaths)
Well I am grown up now, mostly. Every year I question the expense of our vacation and wonder if I can afford it, but deep down I know – there will be enough, and I cannot afford not to go.
My friends and family, with whom I vacation with each year, have served as valuable teachers on the grace of doing nothing. For a brief window of time we sit along the coast on grainy beach chairs and rest, hear stories and share dreams and hopes for the future.
In my year of turning 50 I am learning that this is a grace that should not be squandered.
“Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)
Blessed beyond words,