A few of my readers have told me they have to set aside specific time to read my posts, because they have to be ready to “think.” They’ve also said my posts are “deeper” than how they usually think. It makes me laugh to hear them say that, but I also understand what they mean. I have been doing quite a bit of thinking, reading, and writing on serious topics over the past year or so. That kind of intensity can be exhausting, especially in addition to the serious issues we all deal with in our personal lives.
When I started thinking about writing this post, it came to mind precisely because, for once, I hadn’t been thinking. I’d spent a week on a trip made up of nothing but fast-paced fun, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be thoroughly distracted. I also appreciated the lack of opportunity to think anything more than “shallow” thoughts. I needed a break from thinking, and my vacation was well-timed.
In Sabbath, Dan Allender points out that the base word of vacation, vacate, means to empty or to get rid of something. As he explains, on our modern-day vacations, we flush “away the cares of the world as we indulge in the diversions of empty space.” While his description of vacation is meant to contrast the idea of Sabbath rest (the the book’s focus) and is only a small part of the book, the point has stuck with me. Typically, we don’t vacation in order to restore or to fill; we vacation to escape and to temporarily forget whatever plagues our normal lives.
In the months after my father’s death, my counselor encouraged me to do things that were fun–particularly to watch movies that made me laugh. He said my life had been much too serious lately (and for good reason), and that I needed to take some time to do something mindless. His point seems simple, but true, and often overlooked. Most of us have periods of life that have an intensity from which we need an escape for a time–we can’t healthily sustain that kind of engagement long term.
It seems odd to write a post about needing to be distracted. After all, finding mindless distraction is not something with which our culture struggles! We want distraction as accessible and as wireless as possible (and preferably in a form that will fit in our pockets and has a long battery life). Still, when we try to be counter-cultural by being full of thought in every aspect of life, we can end up at the opposite extreme, denying that distraction has any value. To pretend we don’t need occasional diversion doesn’t mean we don’t seek it. To the contrary, we still find it. But, because we don’t acknowledge the distraction for what it is, we give the distraction the control, both in terms of the form it takes and the alluring power it can hold over us.
Instead, when we acknowledge our need to “vacate,” to be “emptied” for a little while, we can choose and confine the distraction so that it doesn’t take over our lives. In its proper place, mindless diversion can provide an important break, even enabling us to return to life ready to more fully engage it.