Media CenterCarolyn Woo’s CNS Column – God Will Cover for You on Your Next Vacation

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By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo

June 2015

June spells summer vacations. When I grew up in Hong Kong, we did not have the practice of family vacations. Early in my career, our family went to wherever I had a summer conference. It was not quite a vacation as I always spent part of the time away from the family laboring and stressing over the various duties that I had. It was not until I joined Notre Dame – whose president, Fr. "Monk" Malloy CSC, took the summer to travel to places which intrigued him – that, taking the cue from him, we started the habit of family vacations. We are now addicted. I have come to appreciate the importance of a leader who takes vacations for how it legitimizes the practice and encourages the behavior. Correspondingly, I think it is important for employers to create disincentives for employees to skip vacations.

Despite the proven benefits of vacations, Expedia reports that on average Americans receive 14 vacation days compared to 19 in Canada, 27 in Germany and 39 in France. Compounding the problem, we tend to forego four vacation days which have already been earned. This should not be. Given the popularity of "stay-cations," days off do not even have to be expensive or require pre-planning.

On my vacations, I love the freedom from my alarm clock. I let my body, rather than my work schedule, tell me what it needs in the way of sleep. I am willing to concede to the sun or the singing birds the job of rousing me to wakefulness as often on workdays I rise before them. Just getting up when I want to makes me feel so pampered. When we are on vacation, we leave some portion of time unscripted so as to accommodate the surprising delights that capture us, allowing for the possibility of falling in love with places and experiences unknown whether they are the works of nature or the aesthetics of human expressions. Somehow eyes and hearts open when we open our schedules.

We now try to go places which require a lot of walking and spending the day together as a family in exploration. Having all three meals together with my husband and grown sons invites topics and comments that remind me of how much our sons have matured into their own persons with rich experiences and their own views. Whether it is a point of history, geography, sociology, politics, economics, literature or popular culture, I so enjoy the insights they bring and how these open my mind. Inevitably, I marvel at and am stimulated by the depth and breadth of our world and take deep breaths to absorb it all. Along the way, the type A part of my personality that pivots on efficiency, logic, judgement takes a back seat and I am just happy to "be" without the need to do and fulfil obligations. I drink in the wealth of our lives as family blessed beyond words.

On my first spiritual direction session at Notre Dame, my good friend, Fr. Paul Doyle, CSC, had me read out loud the first stanza of Psalm 127:


"Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep.”


Invoke this when you next ponder whether or not you can afford your days off for vacation.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service.

You can follow Dr. Woo on Twitter at @WooCRS.

Read Dr. Woo’s previous columns