A year ago, we had the unexpected gift of taking time off to go as a family to a resort hotel a little north of Houston. It was late July, and I expected it to be hot and miserable. After all, late July through September often is both hot and miserable in Texas. I was also anxious about packing up three boys and leaving town to go to an unfamiliar place when I still had so much to do before the school year started. My brain was stuck in working mode, and I was having trouble switching to vacation mode instead. As we piled into the car, the boys started asking me, “Mommy, is this the ba-cation?”
I looked at their excited faces and said, “We are on our way to vacation. This is just the start of the drive there.”
They went on to ask, “Mommy, what is ba-cation like? Where is ba-cation located? How will we know when we get to ba-cation?”
I took a breath, holding in the strong desire to tell them we needed to play the silent game until we arrived at “ba-cation” in about four hours.
The boys eventually settled down in their seats and stopped asking questions until we got to the resort. As we drove through a massive grove of trees, I told them, “Boys, we are here. We are at our vacation.”
As we checked in and settled into our room, I could feel myself relaxing almost in spite of myself. We were here, at vacation. It turned out to be a very pleasant few days of not cooking and being able to walk out to a massive swimming pool and watch my boys jump and play with ease in their little floaties. It was also the first time in a while that I didn’t even think about work or things I had to do back at home.
St. Ignatius knew the importance of vacations and rest from work. Though he started out living an austere life himself, he realized that his men could not do the work they needed to do if they were tired, overworked, and unbalanced. Even 500 years ago, St. Ignatius knew what we know now—that self-care is vitally important—and so he encouraged his men to take good care of themselves. He believed his men could not truly serve others without first paying attention to their own needs. I still see this practice today when Jesuits from my school take time over the summer to visit their families, engage in favorite hobbies like fly-fishing, and allow for spiritual care on their annual eight-day silent retreat. These Jesuits, to me, are a great model of integrating self-care into their lives. And they inspire me to figure out how it can fit within my own.
Though I may not have time for an eight-day silent retreat over the summer, and engaging in my favorite hobbies takes a little more time and coordination around the needs of my sons, there is room for me to heed the teachings of St. Ignatius and take care of myself. When St. Ignatius was Superior General, his secretary wrote the following to one of the Jesuits (advice that was not rare when speaking to his men):
Understand, then, that Father General’s mind on this matter is that, in whatever spiritual, academic, or even bodily exertions you undertake, your charity should be guided by the rule of discretion; that you should safeguard the health of your own body in order to aid your neighbors’ souls; and that in this matter each of you should look out for the other, indeed, for both of you.
Like the ever-popular advice on planes, you cannot secure the oxygen mask of others until you first secure your own.
When our vacation was over, and we were back in the car driving home, my sons said over and over, “Mommy, we love ba-cation. When can we go back? And next time, can we ba-cation on the beach?”
This unexpected gift of time away with my family reminded me of the many fruits that come from taking time to breathe and allowing mind and body to take a break and heal. And I look forward to the next “ba-cation” ahead.