Last week I spent four beautiful days in Napa with my mama and sister. All sunshine and good food and just being together. And, of course, vino.
We booked this trip a while back, not knowing that it would coincide with the passing of our beloved family dog. For those who aren’t dog people, I might be hard to relate to this statement, but Lacy’s passing felt like a true death in the family. A dog like Lacy provides unconditional love and genuine companionship that we mere humans have a harder time giving to others. Because of our higher-functioning (read: obsessive, self-centered) brains, we’re more concerned with whether our affections will be returned, what others will think of us. Lacy wasn’t that way. She just made friends with everyone she met and doled out love freely, never worried that she’d run out of it.
I want to be more like that.
Her passing left a gaping hole in our hearts and an eerie quiet in our home. We keep thinking we hear her coming down the hall, her nails tapping on the hardwood floors. When we pull up in the driveway, we expect to see her cute furry face in the front window, but she’s not there. Every time we come home, the loss hits us all over again.
So, as much as I love time at my family’s home, Napa was a welcome retreat. We three girls were able to say goodbye to Lacy at Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park, which made it a bit easier to feel a sense of closure to our time with her. Moreover, we were able to give space to our grief and our tiredness from the general rigor of life by stepping away for a few days.
While I frequently refer to this time as “vacation,” that word doesn’t adequately represent the purpose of my PTO. “Vacation” stems from the Latin vacare, to “be empty, free, or at leisure,” which is rooted in the Latin vanus, “empty, void.” It’s hard to ignore the connection between our culture’s vanity and obsession with indulgent vacations.
For me, the purpose of vacation is not about getting in a state of emptiness to simply bask in that leisure and forget all my cares. Rather, it’s about what God does in that void, when I give all my cares to him (1 Peter 5:7) and empty my hands instead of white-knuckling for control. He creates something new in those empty spaces. And that’s how he’s always been.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:2-4, ESV)
From the beginning, God has been about separating light from darkness, filling in the void, creating new life where there was nothing. And that’s why vacation is so important – it’s about what God does in the empty spaces of our lives. When we make time to be still and quiet – when we stop rushing around like life is an emergency – then God’s creativity gets to work in our lives. And, we have the opportunity to co-create with him.
So, rather than “vacation,” I think “retreat” my be a more accurate term. Instead of always rushing forward, always running, always anxiously pursuing the next thing, we have to make space to withdraw. At its root, “retreat” means to draw back, stemming from the Latin trahere “to pull, draw.”
When we retreat into “Sabbath rest” (more on that later), we re-discover the well from which we draw our strength. Like Hagar in the desert, I sometimes feel like I’m dying of thirst when there’s a well right in front of me.
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. (Genesis 21:19, ESV)
I need time in seclusion, quiet and stillness to be refreshed, to get low on my knees in order to draw from the waters that gather in the low grounds. As Ann Voskamp notes in her beautiful book One Thousand Gifts, “Whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water and I must kneel low in thanks. The river of joy flows down to the lowest places.”
Maybe that’s why we’re so drawn to places of water – to rivers and mountains and beaches. We have this innate understanding that we need water, life-giving refreshment, to be sustained. And there’s really only one well that never runs out. Amazingly, when we belong to God, he promises that he places that source of water within us.
Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14, ESV)
For me, it’s all too easy to forget about this “spring of water” within me and to instead try to draw upon my limited human resources – which are all just gift and grace in the end anyway.
And that’s why retreat is so vital. When I gather beside those “quiet waters,” my soul is refreshed (Psalm 23:1-3). Like the Psalmist David says, sometimes God has to “make me lie down” in green pastures – through hardships, setbacks or challenges that press in on me.
It’s so much better, though, when I carve out time each day to sit beside the quiet waters. When I choose to experience Sabbath rest weekly. And when I plan for extended times of retreat. It’s in those quiet times that I can hear and proclaim the truth: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”