One might get the impression from the monastic tradition of the Church that the life of a Christian is all work and no play. Yet, the monastic tradition is nothing if not brutally honest about what it means to be human – our limits, our foibles, our weaknesses. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that even in the strict spiritual tradition of the desert fathers we find a story (in several variations) of the human need for rest and relaxation. The stories of the desert fathers often contain humor in them, or the humor is obvious in the story. Here is one story where Abba Antony realizes he and the monks are being observed by a layman who is scandalized to see the Abbot jesting with the monks. The Abbot realizes he needs to soothe the ruffled feathers of the scandalized layman.
There was somebody in the desert hunting wild animals and he saw Abba Antony jesting with the brothers. The elder wanted to convince the hunter that he had to come down to the level the brothers from time to time. He said to him: “Put an arrow to your bow and draw it.” He did so. He said to him: “Draw again,” and he drew. Again he said: “Draw.” The hunter said to him: “If I draw beyond its capacity my bow will break.”
Said the elder to him: “So is it too with the work of God. If we draw on the brothers beyond their capacity, they will quickly break. So it is necessary to come down to the level of the brothers from time to time.” The hunter was conscience-stricken when he heard this and went his way greatly benefitted by the elder. The brothers withdrew to their place strengthened. (Give Me a Word, pp. 33-34)
While we enter into our summer vacation season, we can appreciate the gift that God gives us to enjoy life, to recreate our hearts and minds. While it is true we are to continue practicing our faith in every circumstance, we also are to pray, give thanks and rejoice as part of our Christian life (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It is true that we cannot take a vacation from God, we still can take a vacation to renew our gratitude to our Creator.