Vacation Parallax

Judy Weiskopf
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 08/02/2015

In preparation for this service, I posted a survey on Facebook and asked people to respond to it. Some responded on Facebook for all to see, and others sent me private messages with their responses. I asked the same questions I asked you, plus a couple of others.

Their responses were as follows:


1.     Experience new things / explore / adventure (8)

2.     Relax / Rejuvenate (4)

3.     Get away / Disconnect (3)

4.     Be with someone special / a friend / family (3)

5.     To fish (1) 

Best? (except for the first 2, pretty evenly distributed)

1.     Making family memories / family time

2.     New experiences / unexpected discoveries

3.     Seeing new places

4.     Experiencing other cultures

5.     The activities – One person specified Fishing

6.     Disconnecting (electronics, work)

Worst? (Also pretty evenly distributed, except for the first one)

1.     It ends / Leaving

2.     Packing                     

3.     Getting ready (mail, plants, pet care)      

4.     Leaving pets behind           

5.     Air travel                  

6.     Driving (I95)            

7.     Rain                           

8.     Strange bed              

9.     Lack of sleep            

10.  Different hours / routine  

11.  Not fishing                           

12.  Catching up on bills, mail, etc. afterwards          

13.  Returning to obligations    

But one of the responses that stood out most to me was the person who responded and said, “What’s a vacation?!”

She brought up a good point! Research shows that in the U.S., work-weeks are becoming longer, vacation time is becoming shorter, and the standard holiday in the U.S. is now a long weekend. Only 14 % of Americans take a vacation of two weeks or more in a year. Nearly half of U.S. workers didn't take a day off in 2014, and nearly 25% of the civilian workforce doesn’t get any paid vacation time.

Another friend of mine is traveling in Europe, and met a traveler from New Zealand who told him that 4 weeks of vacation time is mandated by law there. And that doesn’t include sick leave. The United States is known as the “no-vacation nation.” Do you know that in at least 137 countries, law mandates annual leave of anywhere from 2 weeks (Japan) to 30 or more work-days (i.e. 6 weeks)?

There are actually a few companies in the U.S. that not only require their employees to take a vacation, but also give them an annual vacation stipend! One company even turned its travel program into a game. Participants have to pick somewhere new to visit and keep it a secret from their co-workers. The travelers leave a trail of digital clues on Instagram and Facebook for people to guess their whereabouts. Once they return, they describe their destination in a presentation.

There are tons of articles on line touting all the benefits of vacation from relieving stress, improving mental and physical health, increasing life expectancy, strengthening family ties, increasing productivity energy, and creativity, and many more. Even just a vacation at home can re-energize us and give us many of these benefits. One even said, “Calling your travel agent can save your marriage and keep you off the Prozac.”

But there is also a challenging side of taking vacations. Some of you, and many of the people who answered the survey were very quick to answer, “What’s the worst thing about taking a vacation?”

The title of this service is Vacation Parallax.

We’ve defined vacation, but let’s now define “parallax.”


The apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer.

How does your view of vacation change as you change your position? Think about these stages of vacation:

·      Planning (Ideas, reservations)

·      Getting Ready

·      Getting There

·      Being There

·      Leaving

·      Transition: Arriving home, unpacking

·      Returning to Non-Vacation Life

·      Reliving / Retelling the Memories

Does your view of vacation change as you move through each stage of vacation?

Let me give an example of a vacation parallax. My step-son, Sebastian was three years old when I first met John. When it comes to travel, John and I could not be more different than Sebastian’s mother. She hates it. We love it. I guess that’s evident when you know that we first met in Bolivia! Anyway, the first time we flew across the country with Sebastian, he was about seven years old. John and I were both excited to be taking him to visit our families. But Sebastian was initially pretty nervous about it. At first, we didn’t understand his nervousness. But as we gave him the chance to ask questions about our plans, we realized that he had been told about all the problems with flying and traveling: if you don’t get to the airport on time, you’ll miss your plane; it’s hard to find your way around the airport; airports are crowded, people in airports aren’t very helpful; you could get lost or separated from Judy and Daddy. So, in an effort to help alleviate his nerves, we built the vacation up into one great big adventure, making every part of it a new exploration. We told him about all the things we were going to do, the adventures we were going to have, the cousins and other family members with whom we would get to spend time, and the fun we would have flying. Sebastian was able to see and experience a very different vacation when we helped him change his position as the observer, turning it into a positive and enjoyable experience.

Let’s look at how the vacation parallax affects you. What do you feel when you first start to plan a vacation? Excitement? Anticipation?

How does this change when you actually start to get ready for your vacation?

·      Make reservations / get reservation info together (flight, hotel, rental car or other ground transportation, activities) or stay with friends or family

·      Stop the mail and newspapers

·      Set timers on some lights / “secure” your house

·      Get someone to help you take care of plants, the yard, or pets

·      Board your pets

·      Franticly finish work

·      Pack – How much stuff do you really need to take with you?! But that’s a topic for another day.

Once these tasks are done and we deal with the “getting there” part, we can really start to enjoy our vacation.

So we plan a vacation to get away, to relax, to spend quality time with family or friends, then we work ourselves into a stressful frenzy getting ready. Often we find that we do more work to get ready for the vacation than if we had just stayed home and not taken a vacation. Are you ever so tired by the time you start your vacation that you’re too tired to enjoy it?

Maybe you are an adventurer. Someone who makes sure that every minute of your vacation is packed full of activities and adventure. Then you need a vacation from your vacation when you return home. Going back to work may, in fact, feel like a vacation! Or are you one of those people who uses some of your vacation days after you get home so that you can “recover” or ease more gently back into “the real world”?

Our third principle is, “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations,” or as we teach the children, “We believe that we should accept one another and keep on learning together.”

Vacations of all kinds give us many opportunities to put this principle into practice. Lets look at the third principle in two parts.

Acceptance of one another is the first part. That is one of the things that seems to make us inherently UU. So what better way to learn to accept others than to travel to places that are different from us – different geographies, cultures, beliefs – and to learn more about those differences? Or learn that there are more similarities than we thought there would be? Have you ever gone to a new place and immediately felt right at home? Felt that sense of belonging that we read about in Celie Katovitch’s, “Don’t Forget Your Belongings”?

But acceptance of one another can also start closer to home. Sometimes we are the most critical and even less accepting of those whom we are the closest to. They say that “A family that plays together stays together,” but a family that vacations together? That can be a much bigger challenge! Especially during the getting ready and the getting there stages of the vacation. And then when we do “get there,” we are in closer quarters than we are used to, dealing with new situations, different routines, sometimes new foods, and if we are in a country with a different native language than our own, even simple communication is challenging. What a great opportunity to practice acceptance! That may be the time when we need to remind ourselves, “Don’t Forget Your Belongings.”

John and I like to take mini-vacations. We do that by going out on the lake in our canoe. Let me tell you – there’s no better way to strengthen a marriage and accept each other’s differences than learning to work together to paddle a canoe. Especially when one of us has zero experience and the other has been doing it since the age of teenager!

Acceptance of one another. That’s the easy part. After all, we are UUs.

But how do we practice the second part of the third principle? How do we “encourage spiritual growth in our congregations”? And what does this have to do with vacations?

On the surface, many times vacations, in spite of their “worst parts,” allow us time for renewal, connection, thoughtfulness, and even some self-reflection. Often it is these times when we allow ourselves to disengage from the mundane, the routine, and the everyday stresses of life, that we are able to grow personally. But in addition to that, consider this: when you return from a really great vacation, what do you do to “make it last longer” or ease your re-entry into what you might choose to call, “the real world”? You find ways to re-live it, either by telling people about it or by reviewing your pictures, re-reading your journal, or finding ways to re-connect with the culture or people you’ve met. It’s so easy to share our vacations with others!

But it's not as easy to share our spiritual beliefs with others. Why are we so shy about sharing our spiritual beliefs with others? Is it because we've been taught not to talk about religion because it could cause too much controversy? Or it's not polite? Or is it that we think others might not understand? Think about this - what if we were as comfortable sharing our spiritual beliefs openly with others within our congregation as we are about sharing our vacation stories? I frequently see people get up during Joys and Sorrows and tell about vacations (long and short). But how often do any of us stand up during Joys and Sorrows and share our spiritual experiences? There are many formal ways that we encourage spiritual growth in our congregations. Sunday services, R.E., Soul Circle, Chalice Group, to name a few. But I think we can do better at telling our stories, sharing our beliefs, asking questions, and sharing the lessons of life, as we affirm in our mission statement. We have a responsibility to each other to find and engage in a spiritual practice that both fosters our own growth and allows us to contribute to the overall growth of the community. I challenge you to live our third principle more definitively and to find ways to encourage spiritual growth in our congregation - Sugarloaf Congregation of Unitarian Universalists.