This is the third week of July, and I’ve finally managed to grab a week of vacation—my first this year. People do all sorts of things with their vacation time. Some travel for fun. Some hole up in a remote hideaway. For me, however, vacation means getting to stay home.
By “staying home” I do not mean lounging around the house. What I do for vacation is to catch up on the projects that normal people do during their evenings and weekends. This week I’m installing a new exterior door and new windows. Last year I took two weeks of vacation, stripped our bathroom to the bare studs, and refitted everything in it. The previous year I finished the interior of my garage. Another year I built a 10x12 tool storage shed, complete with attic.
These are not projects that I pursue because I enjoy them. On the contrary, I do not like to do construction, auto mechanics, or most similar activities. But I do them anyway, for two very good reasons. First, the projects really need to be done (if you’d seen the shape my windows were in, you’d understand). Second, I’m too cheap to hire somebody else to do the work.
Actually, I have other reasons, too. One is a belief—almost a conviction—that people who do the work of the mind should not forget what manual labor feels like. We should value the kind of productivity that comes from the exertion of muscle. It helps us to remember the dignity of any honest job. Lessons are learned from swinging a hammer, turning a wrench, or digging in the soil.
Another reason that I do these things is simply because I can, and that ability I owe in no small part to my father. Dad has always been a hands-on guy. He’s slowing down a bit now, but he used to hope that something would break just so he could repair it.
Because of Dad, I grew up in houses that were constantly under construction. In fact, I prayed to receive Christ while kneeling beside a pile of two-by-fours in the middle of a remodeling project. Through the years I helped Dad hang drywall, lay hardwood flooring, run wiring and plumbing (both with real copper), and build cabinetry. The sweet whine of a table saw ripping plywood can bring tears of nostalgia to my eyes.
Also because of Dad, I grew up learning what it took to maintain a car. I have memories of lying in the snow under a 1966 Ford Country Sedan while my father beat the rusted muffler from the exhaust pipe with a cold chisel and an iron mallet. I recall providing the pedal pressure while he bled brake lines on a ‘64 Comet in subzero weather. Oh, and I learned the consequences of failing to grease the points when you change them right before you take off on a six-hundred-mile trip. At least electronic ignition has eliminated that particular problem.
As I grew older and began to acquire my own cars and homes, the responsibility fell on me—but Dad was always good for getting me out of a jam. More than once he’s come to help out on big projects and jobs that I didn’t know how to do. He’s provided hours of free advice over the telephone—and he still does. Some of our best conversations take place while I’m standing in the middle of Home Depot or Menards.
What I’ve learned is that I don’t need to be afraid to take on a project. While ignorance may slow things down, resources are always available. And the results are worth working for.
For me, this stuff is hard work. It doesn’t really feel like vacation at all. By the time I’ve done it a week, however, something surprising happens. Things like auto repair and building projects are not the things I do best. Consequently, they consume most or all of my attention. By the time I’ve spent a week focusing on the project at hand, my mind has usually been thoroughly distracted from my normal occupations. Strange as it sounds, a vacation spent doing this kind of work is usually quite refreshing.
It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy a week at the lake or a visit to some exotic retreat. For the moment, however, the best stewardship of my resources is to take my vacation at home and get some work done. I’m rested and ready to go back to the office on Monday. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars. And the door and windows sure do look good.
Ode on Solitude
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years glide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixed, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most doth please,
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.