What I Learned About Fear On Our Family Vacation

I watched my 9-year old son playing in the ocean on our yearly family vacation in Fenwick Island, Delaware, and I learned something about life (yes, there’s a beach in Delaware; and no, it’s not cold there, at least not in August).

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When we first got there, Joshua didn’t worry at all about the waves. He just dove in headfirst and attacked the sea with passion and full abandon. He wore a life jacket only because his dad and mom made him.

Then, it happened.

He got rolled by a monstrous wave. I mean it broke right on him. It wasn’t an “over, under, or through” type of wave. It was an all-out sucker punch. He had no time to react. The wave just came upon him like an uppercut, and Joshua took it directly on the chin. Driven harshly into the bank, he lost his breath, cut his lip on the sand, and tasted the salt water’s sting.

Dazed and confused, a new emotion entered my son’s soul, not something he’d previously associated with the ocean.

Fear.

It took him two full days and a lot of encouragement before he ventured back in the water, this time with his dad by his side. On one of those days confined to the shore, we talked about what David said in Psalm 56: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.” That verse helps me tremendously because I, too, struggle with fear. I told my son that my fear may look different from his, but the truth is that there are many times when I’m very afraid, and it helps me to know that King David struggled with fear, too.

I think I often approach life a lot like my son was approaching the ocean. I dive in laughing until I get smacked around. Then everything changes. Disillusioned by hope deferred, I keep my dreams to myself. Knocked over relationally, I’m less apt to dive back in. Sometimes, it’s easier just to say, “I’m not getting in again.” But then I think about all I’m missing and wonder if there’s another way of dealing with my fear than pulling back. I see another way in this psalm.

I like how David admits his fear in this verse. He doesn’t walk around saying, “I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid.” He doesn’t drive around with a No Fear bumper sticker on the back of his car.

Instead, David just acknowledges his fear. He owns it. He confesses it. And then he goes to God with it. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

I talked to Joshua about what it looks like to admit your fears and to take them to God in honest prayer. I shared with him about my own fears in business and how I was praying through them. I encouraged him to talk to the Lord, as David talked to God in this psalm, to battle his fear through prayer and trust in the Lord.

A huge smile came across my face when he got back in the ocean, this time with a healthy respect for the waves and a greater appreciation for the God who controls them and who helps us battle our fears.

As I survey the landscape of my own life, I can relate more to Joshua and to King David than to the No Fear guys. The truth is, I’ve been knocked around a few times. And every time it happens, I’m less likely to dive in to the deep-end and more tempted to fear. But every time fear strikes, I’m beginning to see it as an invitation to go to God in my trembling and put my trust in Him. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose Word I praise, in God I trust, I will not be afraid.” (Psalm 56:3-4. Isn’t it good to know that we can be honest with the Lord about our fears, and He will give us courage and peace?

A place of renewal

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    Poetry

    The gentle, rhythmic lapping
    of words on a page
    like the rolling of waves
    against the shore

    Taking you there,
    to a place beyond the present
    where minds can rest,
    shaking off the cobwebs
    of consumerism and constant activity

    A place of renewal,
    where creativity is nurtured again
    in the heart of the wanderer,
    whose mind, when freed from wandering,
    can actually wonder again

–From Myrtle Beach, SC

It Takes Faith to Take a Vacation

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I have to admit that it can be difficult for me personally to take time off for vacation.

The two primary roles I have held professionally have been in sales and in pastoral ministry.  In my sales career, a great deal of my income has largely been tied to commissions.  I risk losing opportunities every time I leave my desk.  I also have clients (and a team) depending on my efforts.

In pastoral ministry, the work simply never ends. There’s always another message to prepare, event to administrate, or pastoral issue to walk through.  So, for me, taking vacation provides an opportunity to trust the Lord.  I have to remember that God created us to follow a regular rhythm of work and rest (Exodus 20:9-11).

Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century London preacher, counseled his students to take an occasional rest from their labors for the purpose of being refreshed.  In Lectures to My Students, he commented,

“He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy…  A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is the next best… The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops–these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary…It is wisdom to take an occasional furlough.  In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.  On, on, on for ever, without recreation may suit spirits emancipated from this ‘heavy clay’, but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure.  Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while.”

This counsel has been so helpful to me over the years.  What I have found is that it is often in the break from regular routines and responsibilities that I (and my family) have received the refreshment needed to continue working hard.

Whether it is a week or a day, far away or in our own backyard, time away from our labors can sharpen the saw and allow us to return to our work rejuvenated and refreshed.  This in the end will be more productive than “on, on, on forever without recreation”.

With this counsel freshly in mind, my family and I are pulling away this week to spend time together in sunny Florida for a week-long family vacation.

I am planning on breathing a mouthful of sea air, enjoying a stiff walk in the wind’s face, and loving every minute with my family.  I’m asking God to tend to my work this week while I tend to my soul and my family (Isaiah 64:4).  I’m trusting that we can serve Him this week with holy inaction and consecrated leisure, and that in the long run we will do more by doing less.

Question:  Do you see the benefits of taking time off for vacation? How have your vacations been particularly helpful in rejuvenating you to return to your regular work refreshed?