We hadn’t even departed for home after our “once-in-a-lifetime” vacation before I was already scheming how to come back. It had been a sweet time for our family of four to spend resting, exploring, and enjoying each other. I dreaded a return to the normalcy (and laundry) of daily life.
Overhearing people who said they were at our resort for two weeks, I began to feel that our four nights weren’t nearly enough. What had previously been gratitude that we were able to experience a dream vacation quickly turned into envy and bitterness. Why couldn’t we afford what other people could? (Which, of course, is at its heart a questioning of God’s goodness and his sovereign plan in my life.)
Ironically, it’s the very attitude I dread when my kids go to other people’s homes. I see the struggle and hear the questions: “Why can’t I have a phone?” “Why can’t we have TVs in our rooms?” “Why is our house smaller than theirs?” “Why can’t we live where we have more neighbor kids to play with?”
Why the “pleasant inns” can’t satisfy
Obviously, I can’t blame them. Their questions are echoed in my own. And I have all the “right” answers to give them—that God’s plan is best, and we can trust him to give us what we need; that happiness isn’t found in owning things; that, in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “comparison is the thief of joy.”
These things are all true and helpful. But there’s a quote by C.S. Lewis about leisure in The Problem of Pain that captures the spirit of all these statements in a way that plunges me deeper into a loving trust of the Father:
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world; but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
This quote is always a needed correction to my heart that is frequently ready to pack my bags and take up residence in those “pleasant inns,” mistaking them for home. I spend more time scheming about how to go back on that dream vacation than I do praying and dreaming about how to live fully and whole-heartedly in the home and community where God has placed me.
On the trip I mentioned before, my husband stayed behind the rest of us one afternoon to talk with a hotel employee about life, faith, and the gospel. While the kids and I played ping-pong, he treated his vacation the same way he treats his day-to-day life at home: looking for opportunities to show the Father’s love. Once we returned home, he exchanged emails with this young man, encouraging him in his faith and pointing him to Christ. To me, travel represented a break from “real life,” something I frequently crave. To him, it was an opportunity to live his true calling in a new environment with new people.
Pointing my children toward home
To be sure, we were made to need times of rest—a Sabbath reminding us of our dependence on God for everything. But the nature of that rest should point us to our Father, rather than, as Lewis said, “to rest our hearts in this world.” After all, it’s the presence of God, not the amusement park ride or video game system, that brings “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psa.16:11).
When I place so much importance on experiences or things—creating the perfect memories and getting the best photos of our adventures, or making our home the epitome of comfort and fun, or making sure my kids get to do all the activities they want to do—I’m mistakenly falling prey to the lie that the perfect happiness we desire can be found in those things. I need a constant reminder to be far less concerned with what fun my kids experience, and far more concerned with what kind of people they are becoming. Their character, like mine, is forged primarily in day-to-day life.
Ultimately, I need to point my kids (and be pointed myself) to the fact that the longing we have for happiness and security is not wrong. But it won’t be fully found here and now. Even the greatest joy we can experience leaves us wanting more. Pleasant inns and rest have their place and are good things, but they are meant to point us to the One who purchased that rest and joy for us, not to become ends in and of themselves.
Like Lewis wrote, I don’t want my family to mistake here or anywhere we may travel for “home.” Instead, I pray we can be used to share that longing for home with others, wherever we may be, and to remind each other of the highest possible happiness that awaits us when we’re finally truly home with our Savior.