Thursday, September 29, 2011

are holidays Christian?

You might remember a post I wrote some time ago about Tim Chester's argument that holidays aren't biblical. Here's some further thoughts I wrote for The Briefing.

There's a certain amount of discomfort in Christian circles when it comes to annual leave and long service leave - or any kind of extended holiday, for that matter. The workaholics and type-A personalities amongst us (I'm putting my hand up now) can be even more uncomfortable about taking holidays. Perhaps they're right.

Aren't these the last days, when our task - to tell the world about Jesus - is a matter of desperate urgency? Shouldn't we be spending our time and money on gospel ministry, not on luxurious holidays-for-self? Haven't most people, across the world and until the fairly recent past, had to do without annual leave? Doesn't the Bible, as some argue, give us a pattern of six days' work and one day's rest, not overwork for most of the year and 'binge resting' during one's annual leave?1

Yes, yes, yes, and...well, a qualified yes. While I agree that laziness and overwork are thoroughly unbiblical, and 'binge resting' doesn't sound much better, my husband and I are convinced that extended leave and holidays can be very, very good things. So much so, that we've just celebrated Steve's long service leave with a seven week driving trip from Melbourne to Cairns. Not very luxurious, and perhaps not even particularly restful (picture 7000 kms in a car with four children), but a great break all the same!

Why do I think holidays and extended leave are biblical? Here are six reasons, ranging from anecdotal to theological.

  1. If you're anything like us, after working hard for many months or years, extended rest is a very welcome gift of God.
    Yes, I know that most people throughout history and across the world have had to do without annual and long service leave. They are not necessities of life, any more than owning a car or living near a local park; but this doesn't make them bad things. A year ago, my husband was looking wilted after eleven years in an exhausting ministry job, and I was worn out after eleven years of raising young children. Long service leave has done us a world of good, and we thank God for his timely gift (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

  2. Rest is biblical.
    Rest shows that I believe I'm not the God and Savior of the universe: God is, and I can trust him to run the world and continue his work while I rest. Rest shows that I live in God's grace, rather than needing to prove myself, meet others' expectations or give my life meaning through work. Rest shows that I acknowledge my humanness, my dependence and my need: that while God doesn't need rest, I'm a creature, and I do (Psalm 121:4; 127:2). Rest shows that I know life isn't about work, but about glorifying God in all I do, while I work and while I rest.2

  3. Extended times of rest are biblical.
    It's sometimes argued that, while we're not under the Old Testament law, the wise biblical pattern expressed in Genesis 2:1-2 and the Sabbath commandment is six days of work and one day of rest. I agree. But there were also extended times of rest in the Old Testament calendar: regular annual celebrations in which workers downed tools and traveled to the temple, and (seldom observed) seventh year rests and forty-ninth year Jubilees, when the land and its people rested from their labor.3 I'm not arguing that we need to keep special days any more (Galatians 4:8-11; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 10:1) but if the Sabbath gives us a wise principle for weekly rest, why not the Old Testament pattern of longer rests as well?4

  4. Rest (including more extended periods of rest) helps us to avoid burnout and stay in for the long haul.
    I have to admit that I don't like the term 'self care'. But, in the end, rest is not about self care: it's about other-person care.5 If it's true, for example, that up to 50% of pastors leave pastoral ministry within the first five years, many due to burnout, then it's important to take steps to prevent this. My husband is no workaholic - he's much better than me at regular weekly rest - but after more than ten years' work as a ministry leader who spares others the extra load, he badly needed time to refuel and revive so he can keep serving for the next ten years.

  5. Rest helps our relationships.
    During times of rest, marriages can be built and family life strengthened in a way that's not always possible during the busyness of life. My friend Heather encouraged me (and our experience on our recent holiday confirmed it):

    In the long run Steve & the kids (and eventually the grandkids) will always be your primary ministry so take some time out to ensure that those relationships develop a strength and solidity that will last through the teen years and into adulthood. Our LSL time was always a precious memory for our kids, and many of the experiences laid down during this period were foundational in holding together the open communication with our kids we enjoyed into the teen years and even now.
  6. Rest helps us to pour ourselves out in God's service.
    There are times of life when we give out (hopefully most of life!) and times of life when we take in so we can serve, such as during theological study, conferences, study leave or holidays. During such times we regroup, reflect, renew ('the three Rs') as we prepare prayerfully for the future. Rest doesn't necessarily show a failure to 'pour ourselves out' for the gospel; used wisely, it fills us so that we can 'pour out' all the more, working hard in God's service to the end (Philippians 2:17 cf. Romans 12:11; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13).

Are holidays Christian? Well, it depends. If we spend too much on self-indulgent, luxurious vacations, then no (James 5:5). If we overwork all year to save up for a few weeks' leave, then no. If we live for leisure as if it were the goal of life, then no. But if we work hard in God's service and rest wisely and regularly, then yes, holidays can be a very good gift of God. Like all gifts of God received with thanksgiving and used for his glory, they become truly 'holy' days, not in the old sense of special religious days, but in the sense of a creation gift 'made holy' by the word and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

What do you think?

1. See Tim Chester, The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness, pages 29-30. I must add that I agree with most of what he says here, and this is probably the only bit of this excellent book that I have any disagreement with!
2. See the book just mentioned and my series
busyness and burnout.
3. See my post
Sunday School: The Law and Sacrifices - Special Days for a more detailed overview.
4. The hole in my argument is that the Sabbath is established in Genesis 2:2-3 as a creation principle while the annual religious festivals aren't; but both are spoken of in the same breath in Colossians 2:16-17, and both show that regular breaks from work are neither a modern phenomenon nor an unbiblical one.
5. Thanks, Honoria Lau, for pointing this out to me.
6. See Grant Bickerton's article
Stressors of pastors and leaders.

image is by andrewmalone from flickr


Bec said...

Good post!
This is something my husband and I have thought a little bit about. We have observed a number of the 'older' couples from our church taking 6-12 months holiday quite regularly at a time in their lives when, though they may feel they 'deserve' a break, they are free of many family responsibilities and therefore more able to serve God's people. Instead they are off 'relaxing'. This can leave a big hole in the church community. It has made us rethink that desire to do the big Australian holiday, and perhaps do smaller ones instead when the time comes.
A good topic to actually consider - it's something that we often just follow the world in without stopping to look at what the Bible says!
Bec :-)

Jean said...

That's a very helpful thought, Bec. Might be worth writing a follow-up post. A very helpful consideration.

On a similar topic, I'm not a great fan of retirement - that is, retirement from service, not from work. We saw a lot of 'grey nomads' on our travels, who take a year or two to travel. The same Heather I mention in my article has plans to live overseas with her husband to support missionaries once they've 'retired' - a much better idea!

It's a pity that, during 'quieter' times in our lives - eg once we've sent our kids off to school, or once they've left home, or after retirement - we don't think of using our extra time to serve, rather than spending it on ourselves, whether by earning money we don't need or by taking more time for leisure than we need.

Phew, there's a big topic for another day...

Deb said...

But then again, we might not see all that the "grey nomads" are doing. I mean, it is possible that they are using their travel to share Christ and encourage fellow believers. Or that God is using their time travelling to prepare and challenge them for something new. I'm not saying that is the case. I'm just asking if it's possible to be a "grey nomad" and still be godly? I think most things (not all!) can be done to the glory of God depending on your motives and your goal.

Sarah said...

I think your post is wonderfully wise, Jean.

I feel uncomfortable with luxurious world trips that last for months, but rest is a very good thing. Maybe in regards to older people going on long trips, we as younger Christians can encourage them to see how valuable they are to the church and that although the world sees them as 'retired', they still have so much to offer. I think sometimes we can all devalue older people because they are less mobile etc when many of them have much wisdom to impart.

trump said...

I'm passing through some of the blogs and thought id stop and say hello. And i hope that you folks have a very nice fall weekend. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon Pennsylvania.

Jean said...

Very helpful points, Deb and Sarah. Of course, travelling through Aus during your retirement, or going on overseas trips, are not bad things in themselves - they are good gifts of God. We have to be careful not to judge the motives of others simply because we observe their outward actions; and I apologise if I did that in my comment.

God's grace frees us to do anything as long as we use our freedom to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13). Which, of course, is not an excuse for selfishness or self-indulgence (something our deceptive hearts will lead us into easily at any age!).

Thanks for reminding us, Deb, that there may be other motivations for the 'grey nomads'. And thanks, Sarah, for reminding us to encourage older people!

What I like about Bec's comment is that it reminds me that taking holidays isn't just an issue of my rest, but an issue in terms of its impact on those I leave behind - something I hadn't really thought of in my article. Although I have to keep this in balance with the reminder that I'm not indispensable - the 'messiah complex' - only God is. It would be easy to go too far in either direction: to refuse to take needed rest because I think God's people can't do without me, or to take rest selfishly when I don't really need it and God's people need me.

Which means, I guess, that I have to weigh up all kinds of things in wisdom: whether my taking extended rest may come at short-term cost to God's people but long-term gain (eg I may come back energised and more clear-minded about my service), or whether the cost is too great and there may be other ways to rest. The answer will depend on my personality and circumstances. Always we have to weigh various issues up in wisdom and love.

Thanks again for all your thoughts, which help me to clarify my own! :)

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