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David Hegg: Vacations and virtues

Ethically Speaking

Posted: September 4, 2010 1:20 p.m.
Updated: September 5, 2010 4:30 a.m.

With school starting and the traveling days of summer just about ended, we’ve entered that time when conversations about vacations are frequent: “Where did you go this year, and how was it?” My wife and I took three weeks and learned the hard way that the Central Coast in the summer is more like the Pacific Northwest in the winter. Enough said.

But I have a theory about vacations that is worth exploring. I think most folks take one of two kinds of vacations. They either choose to live rich or to seek simplicity. Either they live above their usual lifestyle or way below it. The first will take you to the luxury resort while the second puts you at the campground. Now, I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, but give me some room to explain.

It appears vacations today have taken on a new purpose. In addition to the rest and renewal that comes from just getting away, vacations now are often seen as our chance to experience a life that is more satisfying, more enjoyable than the one we’ve built and feel obligated to inhabit. We go out in search of life as we wish it were. For some this is luxury; for others it is simplicity. But for most it is just something different, something that gives us a chance to experience what we feel is missing.

For a while it works, if we’ve planned well, and the plan goes as planned. But eventually it ends, we head back to real life and the conversations begin. “Where did you go, and how was it?” Even if your vacation met your needs, you probably also communicate in some way that you can’t believe it is over, and that you dread getting back to the grind; back to your life.

But it shouldn’t be this way. I have found that the best vacations are those that remind us just how good our real life is. By taking us away — either up or down the economic ladder — these times allow us to measure life in a different way, a better way. The best vacations are those that bring us a greater measure of contentment to enjoy the life we inhabit the rest of the year.

I remember the years when my wife and I would spend part of the weekend touring model homes. We loved looking at the new floor plans and the amazing ways the interior designers decorated those living spaces. Of course, the temptation was to leave dissatisfied with where we lived, and the furniture we had. So it was always a relief when she would tell me, “I still like our place better because it’s ours, and I love us.”

One of the greatest pleasures in life is contentment. Truly enjoying what you have and finding satisfaction in it is priceless. But of all the virtues, contentment seems one of the least established in our society. Perhaps it is the constant onslaught of invention and innovation that keeps us from being satisfied for long with what we have.

That new cell phone, the latest computer and even commercials trumpeting a new and improved detergent keep our minds
thirsting for the better, the new and the latest.

While progress has its advantages, our lust for change has eroded our contentment and made us a society that never seems at peace, never satisfied — never at rest.

No place is this lack of contentment more dangerous than in the home. Adultery, abandonment and divorce are the poisonous fruit of discontent. It is apparent our society is forgetting that contentment isn’t a natural thing. It is something we have to pursue, value and consider such a noble goal that we are willing to reign in our consumer, “me-first” attitudes in order to stay the master of our own wills and desires.

That’s the key. Contentment comes not from getting and having more, but through the virtue of seeing the true beauty and satisfaction of what you already have.

Centuries ago a great Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs, put it this way: “Contentment is poverty of desire.” Even before progress had become the heartbeat of the day, he realized the determination to have more was not the answer.

Rather, it was the ability to be satisfied with what you’d been given, an appreciative contentment toward those with whom you were privileged to share life.

I love my life, and when our vacation ended, my wife and I were all smiles, and not just because we came home and finally found some sun. What made us happy was the knowledge that the life we have together — a life grounded in the love and truth of almighty God — was one we truly enjoy and which brings us great satisfaction.

We’re not complacent, just content. And contentment beats vacation every time.

     David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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