January 25, 2013



I knew that my holiday (that’s vacation for US readers – Ed) was running the risk of ruin when my son decided that, rather than sitting outside the cafe Italian style on a balmy Fremantle evening having gourmet pizza, he wanted to be in the Timezone video arcade next door.

What started as a small whine “I want to go on the bumper cars” descended into a full scale Dad and Declan riot, with the eventual outcome being him taken to the car for about ten minutes while he (er, I) cooled off.  By the time we made it back to the cafe, with Jill and our Sophie sitting, anxiously waiting for our return, the pizza may as well have been a Domino’s cheap and cheerful Tuesday night ham and pineapple effort, rather than the goat’s cheese and lamb on offer. At least the people at the table next to us had moved on, or run away or whatever funky urban types do when small kids start sharing their oxygen.  Night two of holiday ruined, although my three near misses in the car park on the surly drive back to our holiday house probably gave Declan a bumper car experience like no other.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on that episode since (and a few others during the holiday – cheerfully helpful Ed), and it has drawn my attention to something we need to prise out of our lives in this busy western world; Holidolatry

“Holi-what?” you ask.

“Holidolatry,” I reply.

The Definition of Holidolatry: The innate sense that when you spend the money on a holiday, when you count the weeks until you go, when you anticipate the cafes you will frequent, beaches you will lie on, summer novels you will read, (whatever strikes your fancy – Ed), then you deserve it to go your way and no other way. You deserve it to be exactly like you imagined it, like you conjured it up, and woe betide anyone (usually your young children who are, apparently, required to accompany you), who threatens to scupper your plans. Why do you deserve it?  Because you’re worth it – apparently. Jill and I experienced Holidolatry several times during our week in Fremantle, and it took a bit of prayer and confession to deal with it.

The Root Cause of Holidolatry: Like many modern idolatries, at its root Holidolatry is about an expectation that you deserve better. That somehow you are better than others, have worked harder, acted more nobly, suffered more frequently, and been more patient in adversity than others.  This impending holiday isn’t simply a chance to rejoice in another part of God’s good creation, and anticipate in part the eternal rest we have entered into and will one day fully participate in, but it is our “right”.  Our kids have been bratty all year, our partner has been ratty in the lead up to Christmas, but now, gloriously now, here in this town, on that beach, among those trees, we will achieve a state of nirvana that has been missing the rest of the year.   Holidolatry is about OUR goals and OUR rights in the face of a year in which we have felt thwarted on numerous occasions.

How Holidolatry Works Itself Out: OK, so that’s a pretty grim view of holidays, but I do think that most of us, if not careful, operate somewhere along that spectrum.  Jonathan Edwards perceptively noted that what we idolise we end up demonising, and that is true of Holidolatry too. So, for example, our plans for a quiet read on the beach are scuppered by the younger child whining and screaming that the older one stomped on her sandcastle, and it’s not just a slight distraction to what is already a day away from the office, but it’s a “waste of time and money” or “the last time we’re ever going away”, or, whatever.  A tsunami might as well sweep us off the beach for all we care at that moment, so ruined does our holiday feel.  Or our spouse is not as chilled out and amorous towards us come bed time as we anticipated after a beach walk, late night dessert and wine, so holiday sex with her (and yes, it is usually a male resentment) is off the cards for another night, sending us into a grump and possibly even the spare room with the boogie boards, beach towels and sandy floor.

The End Results of Holidolatry: Obviously disappointment and dissatisfaction are the overarching end results of Holidolatry, however it usually settles into something less vocal, less obvious, but probably more insidious: a resentment that stokes the idol.  Rather than reassess our goals, or ask ourselves why we have such heightened expectations of a week in a different location with the same people we share the other 51 weeks with, we say to ourselves “Ok, this was a bit of a dud, but next time, that’ll be different.”  Then we start planning and imagining the great eschatological age of the next vacation, which, all things being equal, will fail to reach our lofty hopes yet again.

The Antidote to Holidolatry: Ok, reality check: Most of our recent holiday was fantastic, the weather was great, the kids laughed a lot, had several rounds of bumper car rides at Timezone, we all ate great food, Jill and I had a day and  night out by ourselves (thanks local-living Mum), and by the time we went home we felt rested, sun-tanned and grateful. But still, there were times there, when I felt ashamed of that trickle at the back of my throat of resentment or anger when everything didn’t go MY way.

Here are some solutions to Holidolatry:

1. Don’t take a Holiday From The Gospel: Begin the day with prayer and Bible. Don’t put your reading plan on hold, but rather reflect on what God is doing in you even during the down time, because, of course, there is no down time in the Christian life. In Australia the beach is called a “neutral zone” where people wear what they want, but lust on the beach is the same as lust in the office. Watch for sin crouching at the door and be aware that Adam and Eve fell into sin and dissatisfaction in a location beyond the wildest dreams of any resort hotel (Take note of this too, single Christians going on long overseas trips to foreign destinations: there is no “away time” from God and his ownership of your life).

2. Don’t Take a Holiday From Leading Your Family: Men, in particular, can be prone to dropping the leadership ball when on holidays.  This is not YOUR time, it is your family’s time too. Serve, love and teach them when on holidays, and take opportunities to have gospel conversations.  Our daughter in particular, was quite reflective during the break, especially with her starting high school, so it gave us an opportunity to discuss the shift about to take place in her life.

3. Do Reflect On What it Means to Enter God’s Rest:  If you feel that your holiday is your only chance to rest all year, then you most likely have to remind yourself of the gospel. As those who have entered God’s rest (Heb 4:10), our lives – busy or not – should be marked by a rest that is not dictated by how busy we are, or how time pressured we feel.  If we are at rest in Jesus we will not idolise or demonise holidays, just as we won’t idolise or demonise work. Jesus has done all of the important work for us, and if we truly realise that then we will look forward to our breaks and weeks away without thinking they will solve our problems, or being devastated when they don’t.

4. Have Fun for Goodness Sake: There is something innately Christian about having fun – about frolicking for the sake of it on a beach and enjoying the created order. What a great Creator to think up those beaches, that sunset, these cliff faces.   Fun on a holiday includes elements of surprise, and yes, doing things and paying for things that we perhaps haven’t budgeted for. Tolstoy had no idea what he was talking about when he said “All happy families are alike: ever unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Happy families are diverse and full of affection and imagination. The gospel truth is that true happiness is diverse and colourful and infectious. We can come away from a holiday more in love with God, more delighted in his holy, wise character than when we went away, and more ready to tackle the tasks he has for us in the year ahead.

Well there is plenty more to add to that, perhaps it’s a discussion you might like to have with your family as you plan your next holiday. Perhaps too it is a time to repent of Holidolatry and a chance to place Jesus firmly at the centre of your life, and your family’s life. It could be a chance for husbands and fathers to commit to leading their families in a godly manner, or a time to reflect on how binge work and binge leisure are running you spiritually dry. Whatever it is for you, plan your next holiday to the glory and praise of God, and don’t leave him on the kitchen table with the sunscreen.

(Now where did I put that winter-break Bali brochure? – Bintang-singleted Ed).

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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