What Vacations Teach Families

This year we Hoopeses took our first vacation in years (we’ve been having weddings every couple of years instead) and it was epic, in its small, quiet way.

It reminded me just how much I had been missing.

First: Vacation makes the world new again.

“Behold, I make all things new,” Jesus says in the Book of Revelation, when he describes the literal re-creation of “a new heaven and a new earth.”

The recreation that happens on a vacation does the same thing.

We spent our vacation at a friend’s house in the Rocky Mountains, where the world was very different from Kansas: Every morning would be clear and bright and windless, then the wind would pick up and bring clouds in for a little rain in the afternoon before they would swirl away up the mountain in spectacular fashion.

It taught us that God is an artist and that we are just small parts of the spectacular canvas he is painting. Changing your perspective on the world for one week a year can deepen your experience of the world for the other 51.

Second: Vacation makes your family new again.

All the defenses and routines you have built into your life are gone on vacation. The place you hide when you want to be alone isn’t there. The schedules that cycle people in and out of each others’ consciousness in predictable ways are blown up.

Instead, you find yourself hiking with the teenager who is usually at work when you get home, playing Uno with a 7-year-old you have almost never been alone with and playing outdoor games that you only watched from the window at home.

Best of all, you find yourself with nothing to do as you sit around a cabin during the rain, and just talk, learning things about each other you never would have learned otherwise.

Third: Vacation reminds you that life is about being not doing. 

“Work is for man and not man for work,” said John Paul.

Especially in America, we forget that. In where we choose to live, in what we decide to do, and in how we allocate our time, we make unconscious, automatic decisions to sacrifice family for work.

That’s backwards. Most of our lives (our entire childhood, our sleep, our time between tasks, our retirement) is spent being who we are, not doing what needs to get done. Ultimately, we will spend an eternity where we won’t have any deadlines or any tasks beyond enjoying God.

Vacation is a time when we get to be who we are, and who we will be for eternity.

Fourth: Being on vacation is healing.

Studies show that proximity with nature truly does heal. Patients in hospital rooms with a view of a tree get better faster. People who have regular contact with nature have less stress and better moods.

My personal, untested experience is that the healing powers of nature are heightened on water. My happiest hours were spent as a child drifting on the Sea of Cortez in an inflatable raft, and as an adult kayaking or canoeing in lakes and estuaries.

Being held up by water as you stare at the sky helps you let go of the hurts and worries that haunt and harm you, and leave your future in the hands of God.

Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas, where I live, so I run into her words “Adventure is worthwhile in itself” quite a bit. The words always struck me as ironic and obviously wrong, having been spoken by a woman who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in an unnecessary pursuit of adventure.

But now I think she was on to something.

Time spent doing nothing is bonding for families, but what is even more bonding is facing danger together.

Working together to get yourselves down from the rocky cliff that you somehow got up teaches you to trust each other and trust God. Taking a timid child out on a kayak in choppy waters on a windy day changes his self-conception. And getting your children over, under, or through a fence, against their protests, in order to investigate what lies beyond is a beautiful metaphor for parenthood (and life).

Sixth: Going to Mass on vacation teaches you that your faith is real.

When all the routines are blown up on vacation, one still remains: If you possibly can, you have to go to Sunday Mass.

For us, that meant an hour drive down the mountain away from our vacation home. But it taught more forcefully than words that, even if work and school can be put on the shelf for a time, God can’t. He won’t cede his place in our lives to anything.

Maybe that sums all the lessons up: Vacation teaches you that God is everywhere, and wherever you go, you are his.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.