Road trips. Our family of seven loves them. We load into the minivan, set off on the open road, coffee in hand, and sing along to Ben Rector or our favorite worship songs. We stop for gas station snacks and bathroom breaks, reflect over last week’s sermon, listen to an audiobook or podcast, and take in all the new surrounding sights.

I cherish these times with my family. When we return home from one family vacation, I am quick to start planning the next!

There is one thing, however, that drags us down. We’d leave it behind if we could. Like an unwanted stowaway, it seems to sneak in among our luggage when no one is watching and weighs us down with its subtle tactics of greed and selfishness.

It’s our sin.

Not just mine, or his, or theirs, but all seven of ours smooshed in tight while we traverse down the road. It continues to plague us once we reach our destination. But how do we process the sin that accompanies us even on our family trips?

3 reminders for family vacations

Here are three reminders when dealing with sin that pops up on family vacations.

1. Remember the truth.

First and foremost, we must remember the gospel. Jesus came to redeem sinners like you and me. My husband is careful to remind me, “We are more like our kids than we are like Jesus.” He and I need the redeeming work of Christ in our lives, just like our kids do. We shouldn’t be surprised when they sin because we still sin.

Use the broken, sinful moments on your vacation to remind yourself, and your kids, of your combined need for Jesus. Confess your sins to one another, seek forgiveness, pray, and then pray some more. It’s true that our sin does not remain at home while we vacation together, but the greater truth is that the grace and mercy of Jesus does not stay at home either. He is our ever-present help in our time of need.

Our family recently went on a great vacation, but we experienced quite a few tense moments along the way. On two separate occasions, our middle child spoke up and said, “I think we should pray now and ask Jesus to help us.” She was right. We needed to repent of our selfishness and quick-temperedness and seek His help.

Your vacation is a wonderful time to seek the Lord together and remind one another how much we are in need of His grace. Instead of getting discouraged when fights and quarrels arise, use them as a reminder to point your family back to the truth that we are people in need of a Savior. Praise the Lord that He came to redeem sinners like you and me.

2. Remember the years go by fast.

Several years ago, we took our oldest three children on a vacation. I saw a restaurant chain I had frequented growing up, and the nostalgic side of me wanted to take our kids there for breakfast. Unfortunately, the kids did not share my enthusiasm for the place and would have rather stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts. All three of them went on to bemoan our breakfast choice which resulted in my frustration, their pouting, and my husband’s anger. Happy vacation, everyone!

Looking back, though, it’s become one of our most laughable family memories. In fact, one year for Christmas my husband bought me an ornament of the restaurant’s logo to commemorate the special day.

We’ve been parents long enough now to recognize how fast these years with our children go by. Remember that. It will help you savor the good moments and faithfully endure the difficult ones. We can choose to wallow in the trying times we encounter with everyone’s sins on full display, or we can choose to forbear and press on in gracious love.

The Hurt family restaurant fiasco of 2014 seems like yesterday to me. I’m thankful we can laugh about it now, but it also stands as a stark reminder to me that the days are long, but the years are short. Remember your time with your children at home is fleeting. Take advantage of the special moments you create with them. You won’t always hear their various opinions on breakfast!

3. Remember your call.

I once heard a pastor comment that he and his wife took vacations, but they never brought their children along. “It’s just too hard,” he said.

My heart sank and to be perfectly honest I thought, “I wouldn’t want to be his child!”

Even when we remember the gospel and are mindful of the short time we have with our children, there are still moments where, if we’re honest, we just don’t want to do the hard work parenting entails. This is when we must remember the call of the Christian parent: to deny oneself daily and pick up your cross to follow Christ.

God entrusts us to mold and shape the lives of our children for His glory. We are called to point our children to Christ while we sit, while we walk along the way, when we lie down and when we rise (see Deuteronomy 6:7). It can be a hard, messy job and will often require the death of our own desires. For our family, this is highlighted all the more on family vacations!

“I just want a break!” can be the tempting refrain, but the refrain of Christ is to lay down our lives. It is our job as parents to remember this call. This can look like joyfully serving your family a meal when you’d rather be sitting on the beach reading a book. Or going to play mini golf with your 10-year-old for the 100th time when you’d rather be playing the back nine by yourself.

Great family vacations are possible

By keeping the gospel as our focus, remembering our time with our children at home is passing away, and recalling that the ultimate call on our life is to die to ourselves and live for Christ, we can redeem the sinful moments and go on to have wonderful, grace-filled, family vacations with our children.

We are currently looking forward to a trip, and I’m filled with anticipation and joy at the thought of loading up the minivan again—even though I know our stowaway will sneak in among us. By God’s grace, we will remind one another of the gospel, grab a coffee to go, and praise the One who is greater than all our sin, as we set off together on the open road!

Copyright © 2022 Nikki Hurt. All rights reserved.

Nikki Hurt is a pastor’s wife and mother of five who lives and writes in northern Indiana. Her first book, Bowed Down to the Dust, was published with Missional Press in the fall of 2021.