“Are we having fun today?” As our family made our way East across the country on summer vacation, it was the rallying cry we heard from those we met – from Orillia, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec to Antigonish, Nova Scotia. “The winters are so long,” one new acquaintance explained to us. “We basically have two months of good weather the whole year. And so every day in July and August, we have to make sure that we’re having a good time, that we’re not wasting a second.”
It’s a sentiment that applies not just to good weather, but also to time off. In the wild craziness that is raising young children and working full-time, the year can fly by in a wicked speed of appointments, extra-curricular activities, making lunches, chauffering, meetings and conferences, not to mention the daily responsibility of being present, attentive and imaginative at whatever our field of work. We launch ourselves into vacation believing that the marrow of each precious day then needs to be sucked dry. We need to rest and relax and, above all, Have Fun!
Not far beneath the surface of this understandable, and even admirable, Carpe Diem attitude lies anxiety. It is easy, for me anyway, to go into vacation with the same mental framework that I am so well taught to bring to my day-to-day life: WORRY. I am taught to worry. In the normal routine of life, I am set-up for worry about schedules and responsibilities and whether I am truly bringing my best to my work and how I may or may not be failing my children. Vacation mode can easily become a variation on this relentless theme: I worry that I am not exposing my kids to enough of those classic lifetime memories that I received from the various things my parents took me to on our vacations; I worry that I forgot to take one single picture today, and how are we going to remember all of this fun without a photographic record?; I worry that I am completely unqualified for fun anyway.
In all honesty, as I began vacation this year, that central Canadian summer question presented itself to me as an alarm bell: Are we having fun today? I suspect, in fact, that fun is not what I am particularly good at. If the day included a great meal, I generally feel it was a winner. I enjoy good conversation, but don’t require it. I need very little in the way of structured activity to feel content and enlivened. Am I really qualified for this responsibility – not just for me but for my family! – of filling each precious day with the kind of fun that will make us all look back on this holiday as special?
To address human worry — which I am comforted to know was an issue for our faith ancestors living two thousand years ago too – Jesus spoke these words: “Consider the lilies.” (Luke 12: 27) In a series of teachings, Jesus exhorts his followers not to “worry about your lives… do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.” The lilies don’t worry, the ravens don’t worry, and God feeds them, God clothes them, they have what they need to be what they are asked to be.
When I am in my worry mode, Jesus’ words can strike me as being particularly unreasonable. Worry doesn’t feel like a choice I am making, it feels like a necessary accompaniment to life’s basic responsibilities. And my Saviour’s insistence that I do it less can become just one more expectation up to which I am not quite sure I can measure.
But as Saint Paul noted, look to our deepest brokenness and it is there we can see, too, that grace abounds (Romans 5:20). Even into my super-striving being can be granted a deep and clear breath.
In that deep breath – which days of sunshine and seafood and long hours spent with close family do tend to open for us – I can hear the invitation in Jesus’ words, rather than perhaps the judgement that I initially read from him. The call is not Don’t Worry, the call is to attend to blessing. Or, as Jesus puts it, “strive for the kingdom.” Put energy into the right kind of treasure.
As my wise Spiritual Director reminds me, we do have choices about the thoughts that we allow to rule us. We can do something about freefall thought, the endless hamster wheel of worry onto which we so willingly jump each day (and even let set the pace for us through our supposed hours of sleep). But jumping off the wheel, halting the worry, isn’t an act of willpower. This is central to the wisdom Jesus offers us. It is a receiving of the presence, the power, the love, the gift, that is already there. “God makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45).
I am now in the last few days of my summer vacation. I look forward to getting back to work even while gratefully remembering that there are still long warm days and the special tastes and treats of Ontario summer before us all. In the deep breath that I have been granted, I can note that there was fun. We travelled, we played, we laughed, we ate, we saw things and went places and we came back with (a few) pictures and many memories.
And beneath that are those graces, those gifts, that I didn’t necessarily plan, but that God thankfully showered on me as a gentle and warm rain, maybe more like the dew of the morning, that I suspect might help me “consider the lilies” throughout the busy year too, that might allow me to stockpile the right kind of treasure, even when the schedules and activities and the winter winds pick up again:
The weird and wonderful people with whom we happened into conversation along the trip – from a wise and kindred spirit on the east coast who intuitively could see the beauty of my children, to that strange woman on the streets of Montreal who waxed eloquent to us about gender differences, complimented me on my dress, and asked for a hand-out.
An offering of gratitude for the fortieth wedding anniversary of my parents: that their love might continue to shape “their home to be a place of truth, security, and
love; and their lives an example of concern for others”; that their love may continue to be shaped as “a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.”
Uphill running with my brother in the hot sun, allowing us time and space for conversation that we haven’t had since we were teenagers camping with our parents, also on the east coast.
Prayer, prayer opened up by being in new places: a small coastal church, a historic Roman Catholic Basilica in old Montreal, the long stretches of highway taking us from here to there and back again. The tomb of a small and humble Canadian saint: Frere Andre, The Door-Keeper. Even a million people can still recognize holiness when it is revealed is our kindness one to another.
Watching my children play with their cousins, each of the four children at a different age and stage and yet able to spin out imaginative play that reminds me that I could once do that too, enter into stories and characters, see new lands and special hideaways emerging out of the fabric of ordinary life.
Long meandering walks around Montreal with my husband Dan, stopping as we felt like it, sight-seeing as we felt like it, eating as we felt like it, dressing up as we felt like it.
Good food. Hot tea by the ocean in the morning. A robust red wine before supper. Fresh seafood. The freshest seafood. The fellowship built around that basic act of breaking bread, the nurturing of spirit by the nourishment of body, the great joy and delight of savouring life’s flavour together over a meal.
Being led into activities by my children, rather than leading them. Yes, they are their own people and the path that they will carve is not solely my responsibility but will also be shaped by each of their growing into the person God has created them to be. Badminton, skipping stones, racing around an antique lighthouse and listening to Taylor Swift – none of these would be on my go-to list, and yet each granted laughter and joy when initiated by Cecilia and Gordon.
These undeniable treasures wear away those rough edges of worry, whether I seized the day, took pictures, and had enough of the right kind of fun. Or not.
A prayer to the God who promises peace which passes all understanding:
As vacation days draw all too quickly to their finish once again, keep these lilies close.