I love reading novels flat out on a sofa in our house in Ballycastle listening to maybe Astral Weeks in the background. It doesn’t even matter if it is cold and lashing with rain outside, as this past July mostly was. However, if you are giving me a sun bed under an umbrella on a beach in Portimao in some Mediterranean heat then I will absolutely love that too. There is nothing quite like that vacation feeling.
Well, actually there is. Though I do love my vacations, with my family, novels and good music, there is another feeling that vacation can never quite achieve. It is when the thrill of vocation kicks in that I know I am living the “life in all its fulness” that Jesus spoke about in John 10:10.
There is a moment that expresses this beautifully in the movie Chariots Of Fire. The movie’s main character Eric Liddell is training for the 1924 Olympic Games when his sister tells him he shouldn’t be wasting his time running but should follow God’s calling to be a missionary. Liddell’s answer describes for me that moment when we are living at the fulness of our human potential - “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
Moments when we feel God’s pleasure. For me those are the moments when we reach the pinnacle of human experience. And that doesn’t happen on a sun bed on a Mediterranean beach. Perhaps my most used quotation in ministry is Frederick Beuchner’s definition of vocation, “where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need.” It is about finding who we are in order to transform the world.
As I pondered this over the past weekend, in preparation for a sermon on Psalm 8 which asks what we humans are about, I started to surmise whether we have been deluded by a god of the age to put vacation as the reason we exist. It is as though we live our vocation so that we can find the fulfilment of vacation. Let's cram as many into the year as possible. I believe this to be fundamentally wrong. Instead, I am convinced that we are to use vacations in order to fuel the fulfilment of our humanity in vocation.
Leisure has become what we live for. The Biblical accounts would beg to differ. In the Genesis story humanity is given the vocation of developing the creation. It is in this work that we find our reason to exist. Each of us has been given our own individual genius to contribute to this task. When we find that personal genius and offer it to the communal good then we find that place where we feel God’s pleasure and indeed our own deep gladness.
That beach next summer will bring a certain gladness but in the meantime I have ten months where I can live out my deepest gladness. That vacation is always much more satisfying after a long year living out my vocation. So, vacation to vocation NOT vocation for vacation!