Everybody loves vacation. We all dream lying on a beach in the Mediterranean, or enjoying a majestic sunrise in a small hut lost in the mountains, or even savoring a week of just doing nothing but sipping a cold drink on the porch. So as soon as the school is off and people go out of town we start seeing more and more empty pews in church every Sunday.
Although this is normal occurrence, glancing at the unfilled seats brings this question to mind: Can we also take a vacation from God? Can we say one morning: for a week or a month I am not going to say my prayers, I will not fast nor attend Church services until I come back from holidays; I've prayed the whole year, let others pray for me during this time?
Looking into the Scripture for an answer we discover the words of St. Apostle Paul who recommends to "pray without ceasing" (1Th 5:17). We also find that Jesus Christ Himself urges that we "ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1). The Bible is full of such advice and there is really no place that advocates taking a spiritual "break". There is however enough evidence to say that every time man wanted to "break-away" from the relationship with God it eventually ended up in being sorry for it.
So how do we marry the two: resting our tired bodies and minds but also keeping intact our spiritual connection with God?
If we look closely at this quandary we realize that is actually a false one since we don't have to flee from God to find rest. On the contrary by remaining in close contact with Him we are also in contact with the One that says: "Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mat 11:128). Who can comfort better our hurting souls and minds but the one that is the source of peace? Who can give us the love we miss in the harsh and insensitive work places, but our loving Father? Who can better soothe the fear of failure than He Who achieved all we could ever hope for, our salvation. "For I satisfy the weary soul, and I fill every sorrowful soul" (Jer 31:25).
Many people have the illusion that if they get far enough from their problems once they come back they will go away. They try to change the crude reality by numbing themselves with parties and drinks, hoping for a different outcome when they get home. But this is more often false then true, and coming back proves harder than it was before. Escalating our tolerance to sin and putting our conscience to sleep is not the answer.
Vacation time would be put to better use if, instead of trying to get away from our problems by hiding in a vacation resort like an ostrich in the sand, we sought resolution of our uncertainties in God by deepening our prayers. When we are freed from a demanding work schedule anymore, we can allow more time to prayer, more bonding time with our greatest Friend, wherever we may choose to be. God is everywhere, from the mountains to the sea; there is not a place where God is not and our prayers are not heard.
We need prayer especially in our dedicated time for rest because the only true place of rest is with God: "For he who has entered into His rest, he also has ceased from his own works" (Heb 4:10). By taking our problems to God we find out that in Him all the worries are gone, vanished, all the troubles that seem so impossible to pass cease to exist because in His presence we realize that our lives have a greater purpose than being slaves to our jobs. We we do not live to work but we work to live, as the saying goes. In Him our priorities are shifted toward what really matters in this life and into eternity.
Asd you plan your vacation, pack a prayer book along with the sandals. Attend the closest Orthodox Church to your destination or make a detour at a monastery to get spiritual advice from one of the elders. And even if these suggestions won't work, take with you a short prayer that can be said wherever you are: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!" This prayer, repeated whenever you will have some idle time, will be your best travel companion. It guides you to the destination not found on any tourist map: upwards, where worries end and peace lasts forever.