Learning a few things on Vacation
School budget cuts led to an unexpected vacation for my family and I. Since I’ve started paying attention to my journey in an intentional way, it wasn’t just fun. I also learned a few things about growing.
In Oregon we have this great strategy for dealing with budget shortfalls. It’s called the “Furlough Day.” The school district picks random days of the school year and doesn’t pay the teachers. Basically, whatever amount of money we’re short in the school budget, we just educate our children less by that amount. Easy-peasy.
I’m excited to see how decreased literacy impacts our economy in the future, but in the short run, the kids love it because, hey… VACATION!! Parents on the other hand–who still have to work–are up a creek.
But a while ago Christina snagged a Groupon discount for a place a couple hours from here called The Great Wolf Lodge. I’d never heard of it. It’s a destination resort hotel for families with young kids, centered around a state-of-the-art water park. So this time, instead of staying home and getting frustrated with our little ones for not being quiet and peaceful while we try to get some things done, we decided to pack up the mini-van like people with no responsibilities, and took off for a mid-week vacation.
Fun is about more than fun.
Taking a mid-week vacation is a new thing for me. Prioritizing family time over the work I have (or feel obligated to) is a new thing for me.
So, I was of two minds: one part excited to focus on my family, one part overwhelmed at the work I was leaving behind on my desk. But I had a conversation with myself and decided I would be as present as I could.
Turns out that the trip was not only fun, it was also a learning experience. And some of the lessons I learned were pretty surprising.
1. You enjoy yourself when you let yourself having fun.
Ok, that sentence probably doesn’t even make sense to some of you. But stick with me. There have been a whole lot of things I’ve done in my life that I’ve not enjoyed because I had a mindset that wouldn’t allow it.
I’d participate in a family activity because it was the right thing to do, or because my wife wanted me to, or because a good dad would. The whole time, though, my mind was elsewhere. I’d be ruminating on work stress, strategizing next steps, thinking about emails I needed to write.
This time I didn’t go there. I got intentional. I locked my cell phone in the safe in our room. I left my computer off during the day. I set aside my internal deadlines for blog posts and video recording and sermon writing. I just chose to be with my family and enjoy whatever they were enjoying.
I was with them–not just my body, but my mind. I told myself that I was going to have fun with them. And guess what? I did.
2. You have more fun when you’re not absorbed in yourself.
I’m not a big fan of water sports. I haven’t been for a long time. It’s not that I don’t like swimming, or playing in the water. It’s because I’m vain.
I’m soft and round in the middle and I don’t like that. I’m also blessed with a tsunami tidal wave of testosterone which mean, apart from the top of my head, I’m hairy. Really hairy. And I don’t like it. Since water activities happen with your shirt off most of the time, the whole experience just clangs my insecurity bell.
Guess what’s less fun than a water park? Standing around a water park holding in your gut trying to keep your hairy back to the wall. Remember though, I had decided I was going to have fun with my family. About an hour into my first foray into the pool, I realized what I was doing and it felt really dumb. Not only was I not enjoying this time with my kids, but I was surrounded by hundreds of swim-suit clad parents chasing after their kids, and none of them were thinking about me. One more intentional choice: I decided to be the guy who was a bit too fat and a bit too hairy, but that was really having a blast with his kids. And I did.
3. You learn more (and have more fun) when you’re at the very edge of your ability.
One of the features of the water park is a giant wave pool. Emerson, who is nearly seven, has just started swimming. Lucas, at five, isn’t there yet. He likes running in the waves where his feet are on solid ground, but when I carried him into the waves, he clung to me like like peel on a Banana.
Emerson and I had a blast in the wave pool. It was fun in the shallows, jumping the waves. But things got intense fast when we ventured out into the deep. I’d let Emerson drift away from me in the waves. We both knew the water was twice as deep as she was tall. She’d swim for me as hard as she ever has. Then a wave would push her to me, and as she was just about to pass me by, I’d scoop her out of the water and she’d laugh with joy.
There are two kinds of fun. There’s Familiar Fun and Adrenaline Fun. Familiar Fun happens when you do something you really enjoy. It’s comfortable. It’s something you’re good at. This takes place in the shallows of life. Adrenaline Fun doesn’t happen there. Adrenaline Fun happens when you’re at the very edge of your capacity and experience. It’s something new. It takes skill or strength or effort that pushes you. The water is a bit above your head, and that brings a little bit of fear. Your body kicks in with the adrenaline. This kind of fun sparkles, and engages your emotions. It’s not just fun; it’s joy.
The funny thing is that space, where you’re just in over your head and you’re giving everything you’ve got, is where we learn best. Growth happens when we are intentional about putting ourselves in that kind of place. I’ve never seen Emerson swim so well as when she was in waves over her head.
4. Life’s journey is a lot more fun when you have a sense of purpose.
Another feature of the lodge is this incredible scavenger hunt called Magi-quest. You buy a magic wand and you get a book of clues. Then you go on quests throughout the property. All over the building are paintings and sculptures and chests and all manner of hidden and unexpected treasures that do something when you point your wand at them!
But what they didn’t tell you is that all these destinations are scattered around 5 floors of the hotel. There’s, I don’t know… ten miles of walking that you have to do to complete these damned quests. I’ve never seen my kids walk so much. Why were they excited when the magical talking painting on the 1st floor told us we had to rush to the Piney Woods, which we all knew were on the 5th floor at the other end of the building?
Because there was a purpose. We spent hours walking around this hotel waving our magic wand at things. Why? Because there was a goal to accomplish.
I write a lot about having a sense of purpose and being intentional with that purpose in your life. For some people that sounds heavy, like more work. And yet, I’m convinced that this is the way God wants us to live. So, do I think the journey is heavy? Do I think intentionality is drudgery? Not at all.
Ecclesiastes 8:15 in the New Living paraphrase says this: “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people to do in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them.”
I think our journey is one of growth. Growth takes learning, trying, failing and trying again. But what I know is that learning happens best when we’re having fun. This is true even for spiritual things.
The Bible is more engaging when we have fun reading it. (Here’s a great little book on that subject.) Church is more meaningful when we have fun being together and doing ministry. Parenting is more life-giving when we have fun. God gave us our sense of fun and I think God expects that a strong, engaged spiritual life will bring us more fun and more joy.
But we can take the fun out of our own journey. Not being present, being absorbed in our own insecurities, staying in our comfort zones, and wandering without purpose are all good was to drain the fun out of a life that was meant to be abundant and joyful.