As I write this, I’m in the first half of a much needed two-week vacation here in sunny Florida. My family and I drive down this way every summer to stay with my mother and step-father who both work for Walt Disney World and live almost right next to the Magic Kingdom. (We can hear the train whistles blowing from the Walt Disney Railroad and fireworks exploding at night.) Of course, with family who work for Disney World, we have the added perks of getting into all the parks for free!
Having been been to Disney World numerous times over the past nine years, I’ve moved beyond a wide-eyed fascination with Disney magic to enjoy some things that first-timers might ordinarily miss, things like people-watching and tuning in to the finer aspects of Disney’s creative and marketing genius. There really is so much to see, take in, and enjoy. But being a people person, I’ve learned to enjoy watching how people behave when roaming around the parks and resorts.
As for the people here, if you haven’t been to Disney World before, you might think that Disney’s guests all beam with smiles and merriment. At least that’s what you see in pictures and commercials. You do see some of that, yes. But I also see a lot of tension. People come here with great expectations and a desire to “do it all.” So I see people eagerly rushing around and even arguing with one another and with their kids. (My sister, a Disney World call center employee who has spent her last several years dealing with guests, calls Disney “the fight capital of the world.”) Or, I see flat, tired looks on peoples’ faces. After their stay, many folks return home exhausted, feeling the need for another vacation to recover from the one they just had.
Why is that? I’ve found that there are two sides of a coin to Disney World. On the one side, Disney offers a complete escape from reality. From the moment guests arrive to their resort or a theme park, they enter an alternative reality, an exquisitely orchestrated fantasy world of play. It removes its guests from the outside world into an all-encompassing Disney-style imagination world. Disney weaves together everything guests see, hear, touch, smell, or taste to create this new dimension of happiness.
Caught up in the created euphoria, I see Disney’s guests stretching themselves to the limit in order to be fully immersed in the happiness Disney promises. That’s the flip-side of the coin. Unrealistic expectations slam against the reality that even Disney cannot satisfy the insatiable hunger guests bring with them to lose themselves in Neverland. Walt Disney World, for all of its wonder and fun, isn’t heaven… It doesn’t soothe the longings people bring with them– not by a long shot.
So for my family, we’ve decided to do things a little differently. En lieu of going out every day, we’ve taken plenty of time simply to relax. Instead of the normal running around non-stop from here to there, we’ve taken a much slower, leisurely place. I’ve gotten over the guilt of feeling lazy and non-productive to enjoy just sitting around. I read or work on some fun projects, help my parents around the house, play with the kids, or if I feel like it, hop on the computer to blog about it. I’ve resisted the temptation to worry about work or answer e-mails. It will all be there when I get back. World War III doesn’t appear to be breaking out. So why worry myself about things instead of taking advantage of the precious opportunity I have right now to rest?
I’m re-learning that vacation is a form of Sabbath, not an escape from reality. If I or anyone else needs vacation to escape reality, then it’s probably time to re-evaluate, re-prioritize, or make adjustments to that reality. Sabbath, on the other hand, has a plain purpose: it is God’s gift of rest, re-creation, and reflection. Sabbath offers new life and a deepened perspective to those who take it.
I haven’t come to Florida to escape the world. The inner issues I had when I left are still with me. The conflicts back home will still be there when I get back. But in seeking Sabbath, God has offered me the rest and renewed strength I’ll need to handle all those fires within and without.
So will my family and I be running around in Disney World? You bet! But for me it’s not an escape. I’m using the time to remember what’s most imporant in my life, specifically my relationships with my wife and children, and of course with my God. Can I see God in new ways throught the people I meet and the experiences I have? I pray so. Can my family develop some deeper bonds to sustain us through the stresses of everyday life back home? I pray for that, too. All of this is Sabbath.
And so, I’m going to get off the computer now and enjoy the Sabbath time God has offered me. I hope and pray for each of you that when you have those rare moments of time to enjoy vacation, that it truly becomes a time of Sabbath and not a cheap escape from reality. In reality, there is no such escape!