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Striving to be good for nothing?

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I’ve been hearing more and more people talk about “holidays with meaning.” It seems folks want to make a difference while travelling the world, so they use their time off from paid work at home to…well…work for free somewhere else. Google “vacations with purpose,” and you’ll discover resorts that cater to those who want to “indulge in a luxury lifestyle” while they enjoy an “adventure in helping.”

There’s something admirable about wanting to do good while getting some “R & R.” Yet I have some questions about “voluntourism.”

First, what do “vacations with purpose” say about our work? Over the years, Ray Bystrom and Wally Kroeker have reminded us that as a priesthood of believers, the Christian mission is to be about God’s purposes in everything we do. Bystrom and Kroeker have encouraged us to see all of our work as service to God. Ministry includes the nine-to-five job, volunteering in the canteen at the local rink, the Monday-to-Friday grind of school, and vacuuming the house for the umpteenth time.

Do people pack their two-week break with meaning because they believe their jobs are unimportant? Does “philanthrotravel” reinforce the notion that our workaday lives are pointless?

I pray not.

Second, what do “vacations with purpose” say about our views of rest? In The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, R. Paul Stevens explains that rest is “what we are saved for; rest is the way we are saved.” Sabbath keeping – fasting from work – keeps our priorities right and our lives in harmony with God’s rhythm of life. Christians claim to be justified by grace through faith. We claim that truth, we express that truth, and we live more fully into that truth when we rest in Christ’s finished work, rest in God’s sovereignty, and rest in the Spirit’s ongoing creative work.

Are people driven to pack their holidays (descended from the phrase “holy day”) with purpose by an underlying fear that God is on vacation, leaving us responsible for the cares of the world? Is our restlessness a sign that we consider God’s command and example of seventh-day rest a waste of time? Are we guilty of doing too much because we feel guilty for doing too little?

I hope not.

Having seen too many burned-out church workers and overextended volunteers, workaholic parents and stressed-out children, I wonder sometimes if we’re so purpose driven we’ve missed the signs we’re  driving ourselves into the ground. How many times has someone close to you suffered the effects of your anxiety, or crankiness, or impatience, or chronic fatigue, or lack of attentiveness, or gloominess?

My guess is some of us might avoid goofing up if we goofed off a bit more. Scripture tells us that God, who is routinely good for nothing, blesses good-for-nothing people (Psalm 127; Hebrews 4:1–11). As hard as it is to believe, if we practice what we preach and take the time to fast from work in a fast-paced culture, we will discover Meaning like never before (Isaiah 30:15; Matthew 11:28–29).

So let’s strive to do more good in the world. Go on ministry trips. Enjoy your voluntour experience. And then take a break. Stop. Relax. Be good for nothing, so that you can be good for something.

—J Janzen, interim editor


About this issue
In spite of the huge leisure industry in North America and Europe, there’s good reason to think that Western Christians are feeling less rested and more harried than ever before. Many of us don’t feel we can afford to take a break. Many of us don’t like taking vacations because we’re either too bored or too stressed out to enjoy them. And it’s not unusual to hear someone complain, “I need to get back to work so I can rest!”This issue explores a variety of questions: Why rest? How does rest contribute to our relationship with God and others? Aside from fulfilling a command, what does rest “do”? And what does rest look like? To get at some answers, this month’s articles look at Sabbath keeping and Lent, two Christian traditions that are intended to help Jesus’ friends be more faith-full. There’s also lots of Canadian MB Conference news. In the midst of leadership and seminary transitions, a number of key decisions and tasks have been put to bed.We trust that your “periodical break” with this MB Herald will, to paraphrase St. Augustine, help your heart find rest in God.—JJ

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