Vacation’s done, at least all but the packing and driving back down the mountain. It was nothing I’d expected but better, by far, than I could ever have hoped as I learned, once again, what matters most in life.
I’d had goals for this vacation time, just like I have goals for every day, week, year of my life. One goal was to prepare for an upcoming long hike, planned for this summer (more later) by doing lots of skiing and exercise. it would be simple. Ski. Every day. Hard. This would build aerobic capacity, lower my resting pulse, strengthen my muscles, and kick start the fitness pursuits I’ll need to reach my summer goals.
Instead, the wind and cold sent me home each of the first three days in less than two hours shivering and sad. The next day I tried my hand at cross country. I fell several times, and old injuries I thought we gone reappeared. I finished that episode limping down the hill, carrying my skis and using words not common for pastors. I’ll spare you all the medical details, other than to say that vacation week has me feeling weaker, much weaker. Rather than a therapeutic respite, it’s been more of a look in the mirror, revealing just how fragile I am. The long hike has become something “I hope to do” because I’m suddenly aware that there are things in life outside my control.
What took me so long? James warned us about that a long time ago. Jesus too. Still, we’re raised in a culture that feeds us “goal setting” and “upward mobility” and “you can do anything” so much that we eventually come to believe it. The result? We set goals and chase after them. We evaluate employees on that basis. We shoot for the moon, and then beat ourselves up when we fail to achieve our awesome goals. We lose sleep. We compare ourselves with each other, in spite of the fact that we’re told that this is a fool’s errand. And, significantly, this goal fixation pushes the possibility of contentment “out there” somewhere, on the far side of achievement.
I was thinking about all this, wide awake, in the middle of the night. That’s when I heard from Christ:
“You’ve substituted working for me, for enjoying companionship with me. That will never work. Let me worry about the impact. Let me ripen your fruit, determine your influence. You follow me. And by the way, relax. My love for you has nothing to do with the size of your church, or your publishing stats, or your connections, or whether things are going well outwardly or not, or whether you’re checking off the list of things you’ve decided you need to do in order to meet you goals. Stop. Stop. Rest with me. Leave the results with me. Relax. Enjoy me. Enjoy life; it’s my gift to you.”
And right there, in the middle of the night, I poured out all my goals for writing, and fitness, and hiking this summer, and changing the world. I let go of them – one by one. I confessed my presumption; confessed my selfish ambition cloaked in religious fervor; confessed my longing to approval and impact. It was like a purging, a detox diet, a cleanse of the soul. It included tears, with the astonishing realization that I’d drifted from the very truths I teach, about contentment and completion found in Christ alone.
I fell asleep in the arms of Christ, knowing I’ve nothing to prove, nothing to seek – only a Companion to love and follow.
Nothing’s changed outwardly. I still hope to be healthy enough for the summer hike, hope to write about it, hope to use my gifts faithfully – but all those outward things are fleeting anyway, even if God does allow them to become reality. The one thing that lasts is companionship with Christ, and that’s where I’m seeking to rest. If that’s what I received from this vacation, I’d say it was the best vacation ever.