Last week, I asked about how family vacations might be understood as part of our larger spiritual journeys. I argued that taking part in family vacations serves to tell us about who we are, both as individuals and as part of our families. On these trips, we live and strengthen the bonds of love in our families, love that is reflective of God’s love for us.
As I reflect on my most recent family vacation to the water park Mecca that is the Wisconsin Dells, it occurs to me that our family vacations serve another purpose that might contribute to the larger spiritual journeys of our lives. On vacation, we learn to live in the present and to experience the joy in the moments of our lives as we live them.
When I am at home, I usually have a plan, and by usually, I mean that about 99.9% of my life is planned. From the time I get up in the morning until I fall into bed at night, I am always thinking ahead to what comes next. As I eat my breakfast, I am not thinking about the delicious taste combination of cold milk and slightly sweet cereal, but rather planning the route for my morning jog. As I jog, I am not taking in the sights and sounds of nature that are around me, but rather deciding what gift to get my sister for her birthday and figuring out how to fit that errand in a very busy day. As I shower, I am not enjoying the feel of the water on my body, but rather mentally composing a few e-mails that I need to send. When I lay in bed at night, I allow myself a brief chance to think back, offering prayers of thanks for the blessing of the day, but as soon as I say, “Amen,” my mind is off to the races again, thinking about all that I need to do the following day.
But in the Dells, I found that my mind stayed in the present. Partially this was because it was hard to plan too far in advance; we went to outdoor pools when the sun was shining, took refuge inside when the rain came, ate when we were hungry, and slept when we were tired. Partially this was because there was nothing to do besides enjoy the present—no wash to do, no errands to run, no work to keep up on. Partially this was because the present itself was so enjoyable. I could float on the lazy river, slightly drowsy as I soaked in the sun’s rays. I could scream my way down a completely black tube slide, relishing being pleasantly scared at the unexpected turns and splashes. I could feel my own smile spread on my face as I witnessed the joy and pride of my three-year-old son as cruised down a slide toward my waiting arms below.
And I was reminded that living in the present is important for a multitude of reasons. When you live in the present, you are not overcome with pointless worries, something that Jesus warned us against in Matthew 6:27, asking, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” When you live in the present, you are able to better respond to and connect with those around you because you are paying attention. Forced to leave my phone in the room so it wouldn’t accidentally ended up at the bottom of a pool, I listened carefully to the funny stories that my sons wanted to tell me, giggling along with them as we all got caught up in the moment. Quite simply, there was great joy living in the present.
When we returned home, I could feel the residual effects of our vacation. I certainly had to go back to doing some planning, but I also found myself taking the time to really taste the corn on the cob hot off the grill, to really play Candy Land with my boys and involve myself in the dramatic narrative of who would reach Kandy Kastle and King Kandy first, and to enjoy the small joys of everyday life, like hearing the exact song that you need to hear in that moment on the radio as you sit in traffic.
Many of the world’s great faith traditions have practices that are intended to help their adherents live mindfully in the present and to experience the joy that is right before us. But family vacation certainly is a fun way to be reminded of the importance of mindfulness in the present.
In your life, do you find yourself living most in the past, the present, or the future? What is the good part of living this way? What are some of the downsides or challenges?
What is one thing you can do this week to really live in the present and to celebrate the daily joys of your life?