Our family just returned from what felt like our first-ever Memorial Day Weekend getaway. The experience brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. With this in mind and the eve of summer upon us, I am going to share a two-part gift my dad gave me as a young boy.
Before I start, I need to give a disclaimer from Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." There were plenty of things my dad did that both exasperated my brothers and me as well as gave us training and instruction in the Christian faith. There were times we greatly disdained these practices, but before we left for college, we even enjoyed these disciplines.
The Tradition: When leaving town on vacation (think camping trip), we would typically stop at church, read the mass readings for the day, pray privately and as a family, and then hit the road. My dad did not start instituting this practice until I was in middle school. I cannot overstate the disdain I had for the horrendous “injustice” our dad forced on us.
Leaving for vacation ALWAYS involved a bit of drama. I am one of four boys. Training four boys to pack for themselves is a daunting life skill to impart. Then getting four boys not only to carry their clothes out of the house and into the car but to carry things like food and camping equipment—"stuff that wasn't mine"—was a process that seemed to take years to instill fully into our family's culture. Even after our Ford van and camp trailer was packed, it took twenty more minutes to get six people loaded up and on the road.
The first time we were leaving town on a trip, and my dad pulled into the church parking lot and shepherded us into the chapel, we (my brothers and I) rolled our eyes and said, "Okay, let's get this over with and get back on the road." The next time our dad stopped at the chapel on the way out of town, there was a welling up of fear and indignation within me: "We are going to have to do this every time we go on a freaking trip somewhere?!! NO WAY I AM STAYING IN THE CAR!!!" I cannot remember what my dad did to let me know I would not be staying in the car while everyone else shuffled off to the chapel; I can only say when it came to matters of "church stuff," opting out was not an option.
We were a family that took friends along on our trips. Partially, because my parents were believers in the "more the merrier mindset," but I also have a hunch that if we had friends along, it gave my brothers and me something to do besides fight each other. By the time I was in high school, we had subjected several of our friends to this "thing the Gannons do before they go on trips."
Fast forward to Memorial Day Weekend of my senior year in high school. I had ten classmates come camping with my family. We were spread out in a four-vehicle caravan. You can probably imagine the wrangling it took to get that many squirrely 18-year-old boys on the road, but within five minutes of leaving my house, our caravan pulled into the church parking lot. All the guys spilled out and basically raced into the chapel to vie to be the person doing the day's scripture reading. Each one of those guys had been a part of our family tradition of stopping at the chapel to pray on the way out of town numerous times. This is something you did with our family. No one complained; in fact, my friends thought our tradition was cool.
As far as when my attitude switched from being a difficult participant in our family's vacation tradition, I cannot say. It might be that my friends started to think it was a cool tradition, so I started thinking it was a cool tradition. It gave everyone a chance to stop, a chance to hear what God might be saying to us, a chance to read and hear from the Bible, and a chance to give thanks for our blessings and ask for traveling mercies on our journey.
At the beginning of this article, I shared that my dad (and mom) gave their sons a two-part gift. The first part of the gift in question is the tradition of stopping at our church's chapel, reading, and praying on our way out of town. The second part of the gift was my parents bearing with their grumpy, immature, even inappropriate sons. Whether it was life skills like packing for ourselves and loading the car for the family or forcing us to engage in a faith tradition that we initially wanted no part of, my parents hung in there. Now, this faith tradition is a part of my own family's DNA.
You might not be able to stop off at the chapel and pray as you are racing to the airport this summer, but if your family can leave town this summer, I encourage you to try out this tradition or something similar that reminds your family that when you take a trip, God goes with you. It may take a while to seep into your family's DNA, but it is worth the effort. Here's to having a wonderful summer!