Hope and holidays

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.

– Prince Hal, in Henry IV Pt.I

The summer holiday season can be a time of mixed emotions, of brilliant highs and deep rest, of sweet anticipation, but also of a suppressed sense of deflation. There is something magical and restorative about ‘getting away’, whether that is through a retreat to a town or village not far from home, or a global adventure taking in continents and cultures. The drifting giddiness of an aircraft’s wheels leaving the tarmac, or the rumble of touring caravan tyres crossing the ferry ramp, can be deeply symbolic of making a break, of turning away from pressures and problems for a little bit.

But then there is the coming back, the case load of crumpled clothes, the milk-less fridge and bread-less cupboard, the desk of correspondence in the study, the jammed inbox, the beckoning office door or school gate. Holiday can give us rest, but it can also bring us restlessness, a feeling of bumping back to mundanity after having time to catch our breath and rekindle our wonder.

This sensation is natural, but it may also hint at something spiritual, and something productive and promising which lies behind our whole experience of rest. In the following short post I want to meditate on how holiday can fuel our hope, and energise our labours.

We were made for labour and we were made for rest
The idea of a holiday, a break, a reprieve from the routine is something which transcends our current ability to jet-set, or travel extensively. There is something intuitive and primal about making room to rest, about setting aside time to relax, to disengage from normally concerns us. As a Christian, I can see in my human instinct to want rest an element of the creation order, of the Sabbath principle programmed into us by our God in our earliest history. We are designed to labour, we are made for work, and the exertions of sowing and reaping, of growing and gaining, were not in themselves fall out from the Fall – we are creatures made in our Creator’s image, and industry is part of how we reflect his likeness.

Equally, the seventh day of creation is not just a cosmic selah, a simple breather before the rest of the narrative of Genesis. God models making, and God models rest, God shows us the joy and wonder of creativity, and demonstrates the vital place for stepping away from it for a time. That instinct to set ourselves apart from what keeps us busy shows the mercy of God in making the Sabbath for man, and authenticates the deep feeling of relief we have when we have time to change our pace.

Temporal rest makes us restless for eternal rest
There is no doubt that coming back from vacation can be tough. The pressures that we have sought relief from can simply be on hold in our absence, and in some workplaces a holiday is earned by trying to get ahead before we leave, and playing endless catch up when we get back. That restlessness may, however, have deeper roots.

As believers we are hungry for the rest which remains in the future tense, for the enriched rest of heaven, for the active enjoyment of our God for all eternity without the trammels of sin, the tragedy of suffering, or the trials of life. We long for the fulfilment of finding all our joy, of resting all of our labours, of sampling all of heaven’s flavour, without the conflicts we face internally and externally. The ‘labour-then-rest’ mode of living points forward to the bigger narrative of our lives, and the even grander scheme of the cosmos, in which being forever with the Lord will entail resting from the rigours and nuisances of sin-beleaguered labour here.

Holidays can give us a hint of the hope of heaven. We can be active in our rest, we can be busy in our relaxation, at times our minds and bodies are better fitted for activities and tasks when the whip of ‘must-do’ is not being cracked, and that energised enjoyment of movement and constructive endeavour, that graceful, un-rushed savouring of God in the sweet spot of vacation is a foretaste of what the God-centred glory of heaven will be.

The ‘come-down’ of coming back can be productive. It can make us grateful for rest, it can make us ready for work, it can help us to translate our vexation at holiday coming to an end, into an enriched and hungry hope for when the Sabbath that yet awaits us comes with the Christ, in whom is all our joy.

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