At Work & Public Square

We Talk a Lot about Work and Vocation. What about Work and Vacation?

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Among the many things I had to memorize early on at the United States Naval Academy were the first ten stanzas of “The Laws of the Navy.”

These so-called laws are really just proverbs written into a poem years ago by Captain Hopwood of the Royal Navy. There is wisdom to be gained from his thoughts, particularly concerning rest and recreation.

The fifth stanza is one of the most important stanzas for a culture of overwork:

When the ship that is tired returneth,/With signs of the sea showing plain,/Men place her in dock for a season,/And her speed reneweth again./So shalt thou, lest perchance thou grow weary/In the uttermost parts of the sea,/Pray for leave, for the good of the Service,/As much and as oft as may be.

Being at sea in the Navy is often very taxing. On submarines, we shifted the day to an eighteen hour cycle. The typical rhythm was intended to be on watch for six hours and then work for six hours, with six hours to sleep.

Amid all of the other duties, however, the crew also had to be ready to fight fires, deal with potential events in the engine room, or a host of other problems. We ran drills to practice these things. Many times drills would occur during the time scheduled for sleep.

After months of this rotating schedule and constant activity with little change, when a vessel pulls into port the crew is typically exhausted. There are a hundred little things that need repair on the boat – paint that needs to be touched up, temporary repairs that need to be made permanent, and things that have waited to get fixed.

Both the ship and the crew are in need of time offline for refitting, so they can go to sea again.

We short-change our productivity when we don’t establish regular patterns of rest in our busy lives and use our vacation wisely.

Have you ever noticed how much more productive you are after a vacation?

I’ve been amazed at how much more creative I can be when I am approaching things after a week away. Sometimes I am able to solve longstanding problems because the break has given me enough distance to approach the problem in a new way.

Sometimes taking breaks allows me to endure the difficult, repetitive jobs that get tedious. Taking time off from work helps keep me from growing weary “in the uttermost parts of the sea.” Even a weekend spent on other projects helps me refocus and come into work on Monday with new energy and vision.

A study published last year by Oxford Economics shows that of employees with paid time off, only 84 percent of them took advantage of the benefit in 2013. On average people gave up 3.2 days of vacation in the same year.

People cited workload, saving up vacation days, and the ability to sell days back to the company as reasons to forgo time off.

The study points out that the reduction in stress level and improved personal lives of employees that use their vacation days make taking vacation important. Taking vacation is good for the individual and for the company.

There is biblical warrant for vacation and rest during the week found in the concept of Sabbath. For contemporary Christians, this usually won’t necessarily look like inactivity from Friday evening to Saturday evening. It does point toward a pattern of incorporating rest into our weekly routines and taking advantage of our vacation benefits when we have the opportunity.

If we are truly working hard at our vocations for the Lord, then we should be able to rest and enjoy the fruit of our labor “as much and as oft as may be.”

This we can do for God’s glory and the good of those around us.

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