One of the keys to living an abundant life is taking time off.
We all get tired. We all need a break from the norm, so whether it's a short coffee break in your favorite spot - a ten-minute vacation, if you will - or an actual let's-leave-the-house-and-travel vacation, or somewhere in between, all are valuable to one's spiritual growth. These breaks give us a chance to back up and see life from a different perspective. Breaks give us a chance to evaluate our goals and to look at the direction in which we are heading. Breaks allow us to see if our daily activities are actually moving us toward our goals or if we have somehow strayed.
An actual vacation can also renew our spiritual vigor. It is equivalent with filling the ol' car up at the gas station and can be just as expensive!. What would happen if we were cruising down the highway on an eighth of a tank with the dummy light flashing? At some point the tank will empty and we'll be in serious trouble if we can't get off the road in time. This too can happen in our lives. There are so many activities and so many expectations we can literally run out of gas as we are cruising down the highway of life. Running out of gas may show itself through general irritation over things that don't usually bother you, emotional outbursts, a sense of dullness or melancholy, a sense of anxiety, a loss of interest in the normal activities of life, mild depression and in a worse case scenario, could result in severe depression or a mental and/or physical breakdown.
This is why I believe that taking a break is sometimes the most godly thing one can do. In college one of my psychology professors said that he changed something major in his life every seven years, whether it was his job, his location or whatever. He felt that this was crucial to his emotional health and I agree for the most part. The important thing, he emphasized, was to follow the biblical example of change that we find in the Law. Every seven years people were to pay off debt, free slaves, not grow crops, etc. Even Jesus took time off to pray.
The point is to not grow stale.
Recently, Mike and I were blessed by being able to take a vacation to North Carolina. We've been doing this for the last three years to visit his family who live on the eastern coast. This time we revisited one of our favorite spots, Shackleford Banks.
Shackleford Banks is an island off the coast near Beaufort that is approximately 10 miles long and 3/4 mile across at its widest point. And, although the National Park Service takes care of it, the island is really rustic. There's only one bathroom that I know of and there is no fresh water unless you want to dig for it. In other words, you have to pack everything in and take whatever trash you have out. People are usually pretty good about taking the trash out so the island is a rather pleasant place.
Mike and I went there on a beautiful, sun-splashed day with very low humidity. We arrived by ferry at 9 a.m. and took off walking on the sound side of the island, with our cameras, plenty of water and snacks for later. I also had an extra bag for shelling since this is an activity that the Park Service allows.
Here is a pic of the sound side that Mike took:
It was a very pleasant morning with the wind blowing in from the north. Mike and I chatted while we walked and took pictures. We saw blue crab scurrying along in the water beside us. We watched boats come in. People were fishing and swimming but we couldn't understand why they would blast their radios in all that beauty.
One guy thought he was taking a break, but I don't think he really was:
Maybe he had a good reason for talking on his cell phone, but I couldn't help wondering what the point was of surrounding oneself with beauty without leaving the world behind.
Mike and I walked up the coast for an hour or so (we ended up walking about 7.5 miles that day) before we saw three of the island's horses.
Shackleford Banks is the home of about 100 or more horses that have descended from steeds first brought over by Spanish explorers more than 400 years ago. These horses are wild and have never done a day of work for humans in their lives. They are quite magnificent and are not afraid of people (although I would still exercise caution with them. They are wild and don't need people feeding or harassing them).
They seemed perfectly content to pose for pictures:
The harem's (that's what horse families are called) mother and I seemed to connect:
Maybe, since her child was with them, she was wondering where mine were. Who knows? I just remember feeling happy and peaceful as we looked at one another. Maybe she sensed my anxiety over my oldest son graduating from high school. Maybe God was telling me through her that kids leaving the nest is natural, to relax, to go with it.
Yeah, I think that's what it was. Do you believe that God can speak through nature? Scripture tells us in Romans 1: 20 that God makes himself known to the world by way of nature. It is a doorway through which one can hear from God if you recognize the very basic truth that he created it all - not how long it took or how he did it, just that he did it.
After we left the horses, Mike and I continued up the coast. Our goal was to walk through the interior forest of the island and then walk back to the ferry landing by way of the Atlantic Ocean side of the banks.
See how the salt spray has gnarled the oak trees?
The forest is quite dense.
Spanish moss and vines hang from the trees. Sunlight is filtered through the trees and creates interesting patterns on the forest floor that dance when the wind blows through the tree tops. The forest floor is covered with leaves and piles of horse poop.
As we were walking into the forest, the cicadas were buzzing in the tree tops. They ceased buzzing the further we walked into the forest and there was a quietness all around. I would say stillness, but that would not be correct. The forest was alive. Birds sang, the wind blew in the tree tops and occasionally I heard a horse breathe nearby; Mike caught strong whiffs of their smell but we never saw them. As we neared the edge of the forest the cicadas were back, buzzing in all their glory. We could still hear them as we headed out onto the dunes. Here is what it looked like as we left. Like I said, it was dense. I got a few scratches from tree branches, but they were worth it
Here's Mike on the dunes, just as happy as he could be:
Walking was a little slow going here. There were nettles on the ground in some spots, but there were also flowers and grass. The island is a wonderful place to bird watch as well.
As we walked on the dunes, we got whiffs of salt air and every now and then we could hear the ocean waves crashing against the shore. I couldn't wait to get there. By this time I was ready to eat something and wanted to dip my feet in the water. I was not prepared for the beauty I saw as we crested the dunes.
Here it was. To our left:
And to our right:
I've never seen anything like it. Miles of untouched beach with no people and shells so thick on the sand that we had to wear our shoes just to walk on it.
It was magnificent! I had a Psalm 19 moment.
In Psalm 19, David - I don't know if he was watching a sunset or a sunrise or what - is writing about the beauty of the sun, the perfect order of its course and it's all-encompassing scope. As he did this he began to reflect on God's word and its perfection.
David said that nature speaks about God yet it has no voice. We feel this speech in our hearts whenever we are pleased by beauty, or when we feel wonder over the complexity and perfection of plant life, insects or the beauty of a newborn child. All we have to do is recognize that God created it all in order to make that feeling complete, to fully revel in the moment.
I must confess that Mike and I were quite happy on our walk back to the ferry landing. We ate apples and then he fell asleep on the sand while waiting for the ferry, and I looked for more shells. It was very wonderful.
In the Psalm David didn't stop reflecting once he acknowledged how perfect God's law was. He then began to turn his focus inward asking God to check him out. David was so caught up in the beauty and wonder of God's world that he could only feel naturally humbled by it all. And, that is where the refreshing comes, from recognizing God's place and my place and realizing that as long as he is in control of my life everything will turn out for the good. No matter what happens. The horses on that island - who have survived hunger, thirst, storms and other disasters - are proof that life goes on. God has cared for them and will continue to do so just like he cares about us. We just have to let him.