Summer is again upon us we start again to dream of exotic vacations, foreign cities, singular experiences, new friends and so on. We want to escape the mundane drag of everyday life and discover the unknown, leaving behind us all that is responsibility and work and enjoy the time just for ourselves.
The work-hard-play-hard paradigm has shaped us in this form, to work, work, work and then when you feel you can’t take it anymore we try to forget all of it by going in the opposite direction, looking for more and more extravagant forms of entertainment. The exacerbation of this phenomenon, especially with newer generations, moved a lot of people into extreme experiences: climbing vertical cliffs without ropes, crawling through mud under 10,000 volts barbwire, bungee-jumping and the like. We want to recuperate in this rush of adrenaline all what we think we lost by being committed to a regular, boring life. Then vacation is over and we have to leave the exotic places and go back to work until the next vacation. And the cycle repeats itself bringing more dissatisfaction in the process. .
This cycle however is a vicious one, because one is condemned to living in the continuous displeasure of daily activities, from which one can’t escape, with the only hope that one day you’ll be able to regain it all in a one-of-a-kind life experience. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and the daily displeasure of life takes a toll on us, a toll that we can’t shake off with a foreign vacation.
So what to do? Well, recently the urban dictionary has received a new member, a word opening novel possibilities: “staycation”. Staycation, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a short vacation spent at home or nearby. In other words, rather that looking for exotic places to evade you just stay home and indulge in what you already have, but you’re too busy to enjoy.
This is very similar with the universal Christian saying ”stop and count your blessings”. Because we get caught up in “life” we simply forget from time to time to stop, breathe and look around. The benefit of this simple exercise is that we can learn to appreciate what we already possess. No need to waste time, money and energy chasing an illusion, while we can learn to enjoy what we have already have at hand.
Of course I am not advocating that everyone should stay home all the time, but some short and more frequent “staycations” may render all the struggle of life just a little more bearable.
This concept can be easily applied to our spiritual life. “Cradle” Orthodox Christians for instance are born in the faith and they grow into the practice of faith from a young age. Sometimes however, this can become dull in itself: the fasting, the daily prayers, the long services, can take a toll on a person. Often times this leads some people to look for “excitement” in other religions, philosophies or even in a more secular way of life.
This is valid also for people that come to the faith later in life through conversion. Most of them come to Orthodoxy because they are unsatisfied with their spiritual life in the denominations/groups they used to belong to. But after they accept and settle into the faith it comes a moment when the reality of being Orthodox sinks in, and either they discover that not even all Orthodox people are saints or that the practical aspects of being an Orthodox are quite difficult to manage. Once they learn the imperfection of their new faith comes also the temptation to look for something else, more fulfilling, more perfect, more exciting.
If we try to apply the “staycation” concept in these two cases, rather than immediately looking on the outside for answers, what about taking a deep breath and going back to the basics, looking for meaning where one already is? There are so many simple things one can do to rediscover the roots of their faith.
Spending a time in a monastery can be a wonderful break from the dull of life. Being in a place that radiates commitment, with wonderful people that are completely dedicated to the faith can have a profound healing impact on our relationship with God. We might learn from the beautiful services and the conversations with the elders that our faith is something that is worth working for, despite the apparent difficulties. We might acquire tips for a more organized and meaningful life in Christ and taking them back with us may make everything easier.
Sometimes we don’t even have to go as far as a monastery. Participating in services that we haven’t attended before, re-engaging in catechism, enrolling in the ministries of the parish might be just as fulfilling as going in a pilgrimage.
We might also consider opening up our hearts at the Sacrament of Confession and ask our own parish priest the questions that bother us. He will be able to help us either directly or by putting us on the right path to find the answers ourselves.
But if all this seems again too difficult, maybe we can just start by increasing our time committed to personal prayer at home. Opening a conversation with God, through worship maybe all that is necessary to re-kindle our life in Christ. Once this happens everything will start to make sense again and will be able to fully re-engage in the life of the Church.
Not doing anything while dreaming of deliverance won’t take us anywhere. Looking for meaning, right here and right now, maybe all we need to do. Happy staycation to all!