One of my favorite things about a family vacation is the enforced togetherness. The hours confined in the car on a road trip, the meals at unfamiliar diners, the odd roadside attraction that you actually convince your dad to stop at, can all bolster the bonds of blood.
A family vacation lifts us out of our routine and offers opportunities for growth, discovery and renewed closeness. Parents love it and kids say they hate it, although once they are grown, they sometimes surprise their parents with the fond memories they retain of their times on the road.
And even in the company of flat tires and complaints about heat and sibling squabbles over everything and nothing, people of faith know there is a presence in the back seat. God is traveling with us. God requires no invitation: an awareness is enough.
We take God on vacation in many ways, large and small. Because my mother insisted, when I was a kid we went to Mass in some odd places: a convent in New York, a hotel dining room in Hawaii, someone’s living room in Utah.
Even before the Internet, my mother could find the Catholics wherever we went. After all, if she hadn’t and we missed Sunday Mass and then died in a tragic accident, we’d all go to Hell. That’s what mothers used to believe. It was my mother’s sacred task to prevent any of us from making the trip to that eternal destination.
More from faith than fear, I carried on this tradition of Mass in unlikely places when my daughters were little. No matter what else we did the rest of the holiday, we went to Mass on the weekend. It wasn’t always convenient and it hasn’t stuck with most of my kids, but I still believe that hour given to God mattered.
Because going on vacation need not mean taking a vacation from God. And even if we do not do the obvious by seeking out a place of worship away from home, God is still present on holiday, especially if we embody that presence.
We parents bring God along by modeling kindness wherever we go and with whomever we meet. When we bring our kids to places they’ve never been, we teach life-long learning. When we are open to learning about new customs or cultures, we teach acceptance. When we relax and enjoy the company of old friends, we teach community. When we encounter new friends, we teach expansion of heart. And God is in those details.
When my siblings and I were kids back East, we often visited battlefields on our summer vacations. We didn’t find this especially strange, as our dad was a student of the history of war. We went to museums and rolling expanses of preserved sites, Fort Ticonderoga and Gettysburg and Bull Run.
When we got restless, our mother hushed us. “This is like Disneyland for your father,” she’d confide in us. Since our parents also took us to Disneyland, we got it. We respected our dad’s reverence for the past.
Looking back, I realize these excursions gave us a child’s insight into our parents. And God was present in those moments.
As my adult children have moved from home, I find that every moment of each visit with them is precious. The days of family togetherness I took for granted are long gone, but the holy bond of parenting is resilient.
Many of the vacations my husband and I now take involve travel to and time with our daughters. The face of God shines most brilliantly in the ones we love most fiercely. And as always, God is journeying with us.
Finding God in all things, as the Jesuits say, is not always easy. God is not always in the expected spot. God is not always welcome. But on vacation, we can always find God navigating us onto the road ahead, leading us into a new adventure, rekindling love and joy. Go with God. Happy trails.