It’s been several weeks now since school got out. Whether you have a school age child or any children at all, it’s likely you, like me, are starting to feel the effects of all this “free time.” Most churches take summer off from scheduled bible studies and small groups. Other gatherings like BSF, CBS, or MOPS are off for the summer, too. We are set adrift for the summer on our own, trying to manage our children, our homes, our marriages, our faith, our friendships without the assistance of these regularly scheduled programs.
Whether you are a stay-at-home mom, career woman, devoted grandma, or somewhere in between, summer provides all of us with some space.
We are relieved of a few of the responsibilities and commitments that we have the rest of the year, and we look forward to this “break” all year long. But as much as we love the idea of “summer break,” we often find ourselves struggling in the middle of it.
Perhaps you, like me, had a plan going into it. You bought a book or a journal. Maybe you printed out a prayer calendar or scripture reading challenge. Maybe you scheduled get togethers with your small group and made it happen that one time in between housework and naptimes and everyone’s various vacations.
Here we are midway through the summer months, and the plan is beginning to unravel. So how do we embrace the emptiness of summer?
How do we stay connected with Christ without our regular women’s bible study? How do we maintain those friendships when everyone is traveling in different directions? Here are some practical ideas to make the most of the rest of your summer:
1. Experience a clutter-free quiet time.
We often can’t wait for our schedule to free up so we can fill it with “relaxation.” Sitting by the pool, going to the beach, going on vacation, taking a roadtrip, hanging out with friends, finishing house projects, going, going, going, going. We don’t often plan on leaving our schedule empty.
There’s too much to do, too many people to see, too many ways to “relax.” An empty schedule is a waste of time. Or is it?
I don’t know about you, but one of my greatest struggles with my quiet time is distraction. My mind just can’t stop wandering over to my overfull schedule or my crammed to-do list. Embracing an emptier schedule means making room in my brain for once. Not filling it with vacation plans and beach days and park playdates. Allowing my brain to rest and not worry about being on time or meeting up with someone or packing up for the pool. Maybe having an emptier schedule will actually give my mind less places to wander and provide me with more focus when I do spend time with God.
2. Recognize the opportunities right in front of you
Have you ever noticed that an emptier schedule leaves space for generosity, kindness, and empathy?
Recently, I came across a fascinating Princeton study that was done in the 70s. Basically, they tested the parable of the Good Samaritan. They recruited seminary students for what they called a “study on religious education.”
First, each student was given a questionnaire about their religious beliefs to test how those beliefs might correlate to their actions. Next, they gave students one of two possible assignments: prepare a sermon based on the Good Samaritan or prepare a presentation about seminary jobs.
They then told the students they needed to go to another building to complete their assignments and sent them on their way at varying levels of hurriedness. Anywhere from, “You’ve got plenty of time” to “You’re going to be late! Get going!” On the way to the second location, each the students encountered a man slumped in an alleyway who was moaning and coughing.
What do you expect they learned from this study?
I know what I expect. I expect that the students who had a true saving faith in Jesus Christ and a committed Christian walk would be more likely to help that man in the alley. I expect the students preparing to teach on the Good Samaritan would choose to be Good Samaritans themselves. I mean obviously, right?
You know what I didn’t expect? That the level of hurriedness was the single most important variable in whether or not someone chose to stop and help that man.
According to the study, “[A] person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!).”
I can be too busy to act like Jesus even when I am thinking about Jesus.
I need to embrace emptiness in my own life in order to make room for the hurting. I need to slow down enough to have time to help. Who knows how many people I have stepped over on the way to church or bible study or some other good Jesusy thing? Embracing the emptiness makes room for living the Gospel in real life.
3. Connect with Christ completely on your own
I’m not much of an athlete or even a somewhat regular exerciser, but I do know the concept behind cross-training. Cross-training is when you participate in multiples sports or types of exercise in order to improve your performance in your main sport.
When applied to Christianity, we can think of it this way: our main sport is following Jesus. Our usual “training” involves meeting in scheduled groups, like a women’s bible study or moms group, but how do we continue our “training” when those groups are on a break?
We often struggle seeking Christ on our own because our solitary spiritual muscles are weak.
We aren’t used to a solely independant connection with Christ where we have no weakly accountability or scheduled meeting. We are awesome at corporate Christianity, but a personal, private faith is harder to maintain. Yet this is precisely the “workout” we need to become stronger and better followers of Christ.
With an emptier schedule, the removal of regularly scheduled church programs or school responsibilities or work pressures, we are forced to seek Jesus in a completely different way. We are on our own, left listening for the Spirit’s guidance. No one at church has selected a book or bible study for you. No one is expecting you to complete your homework before a specified meeting time. It’s all up to you, and Jesus. Ugh. I’m working up a sweat just thinking about it.
4. Resist the habit of filling up holes in your summer schedule with other “restful” things.
With trips to the beach or the pool, accompanied by my stack of easy summer fiction. With household projects that have been nagging at me all year, finally allowing me to breathe a sigh of relief when they are complete.
Connecting with Jesus completely on our own is hard. We are easily distracted by our need to accomplish and our desire to “relax.”
The truth is, we cannot find any real rest apart from a deep connection with Christ. In the end, all our summer plans amount to foolish busyness, and even idolatry, when we convince ourselves that we “need time off” more than we need time with Jesus.
I encourage you to embrace the emptiness, friend. Leave your schedule open. Clear out your to-do list. This might just be the year you accomplish nothing but gain everything.
Marie Osborne is a wife, mom, coffee drinker, loud laugher, & Jesus follower. When she isn't laughing with her husband, texting with her girlfriends, singing with her preschooler, or chasing after her toddler twins, she's probably writing at her blog while binge watching Netflix.
Originally published Tuesday, 18 July 2017.