It was a simple summer—definitely not one that topped the list as “most exciting” or “most memorable”—but it marked me for life in a profound way.
My children were little, but all of age and ability to explore a playground without needing a helicopter parent. I planned regular dates to meet up with friends at local area parks, and I’d show up to each location with a portable living room stuffed into the collapsible wagon I kept in the back of our van: a few camp chairs, a beach blanket, and a full day’s worth of hydration and snack supplies. I also made my children wear matching neon shirts so that I could count them from a distance without straining my eyes.
Upon arrival to a park date, I’d scope out a shady spot with a good view of the playground, set up chairs for the moms who planned to join me and sink my weary self into a seat to watch my children swarm the playground in their matching neon shirts. Putting all six of them in the same eye-popping color made it easier to count and keep track of them. That summer rhythm offered me freedom from piles of anxious thoughts and the annoyance that accumulated when we were in close quarters for too long.
Every time June rolls around, I find myself longing for a taste of the peace and calm I experienced that summer.
Right now, my open calendar is an expanse of possibility. I want our summer to bring respite from the busy pace we’ve kept in recent months, but if I don’t slow down to consider how to establish new rhythms, I’m at risk of filling up the calendar with things that do not serve our family well.
In my quest to welcome peace and purpose into the months ahead, there are three areas I’m exploring as I shape our family calendar.
June is the perfect month to pause and take stock of things. I love revisiting the goals I set in January when I’m only halfway through the year. This allows me to adjust and re-focus my efforts toward what currently falls within my top priorities, since those often change with the seasons. With the summer months ahead, I find it valuable to take an honest look at recent developments in my life, both personally and with respect to my family as a whole.
Reflection can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but I prefer to take half a day to find a quiet space and think about my life and home on a big picture level.
How is my heart?
What are my current needs and how can I tend to them?
What recent challenges have I encountered and how can I overcome them?
What are my present priorities and do my current commitments line up with them?
I ask myself similar questions with my kids and spouse in mind. Being thoughtfully in touch with everyone in my household helps my husband and I make decisions about our summer calendar with an eye on what will tend to everyone’s needs.
When I am winding down in the evening, I often record a few shorthand thoughts in a journal. I make note of things from the day that caught my attention because they were beautiful to me in some way, or because I encountered something that needs my attention.
I find it valuable to reflect on many levels. It serves me well to separately consider the big picture, a general vision for the summer months, as well as the weekly and even daily details of life. The nuances of each day and the needs within my family change all the time, and when I make a rhythm of tuning in with intentional reflection, God faithfully meets me there.
For me, reflection is a precursor to prayer. It helps me get in the right frame of mind to intelligently ask God for wisdom regarding how to address whatever comes to mind during my times of listening. Reflection helps me become aware of fine details that impact my life and leads me to productive steps forward as summer unfolds.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5 NASB
Summer is a beautiful time to release things that are no longer adding joy and purpose to my life. It’s a great time to purge papers from the school year and whatever didn’t make it out of the house during spring cleaning. It’s the perfect season to identify frustrations, disappointments, and hurts I’ve carried. It’s also the time to let go of the angst that comes from shouldering more than I need to.
If it sounds easy, I’ll be upfront and confess that it rarely is. If I’ve been holding on to something, it is often because I’m using it to cope with current challenges instead of proactively dealing with them.
When I mention the practice of releasing things, I’m referring to both physical and intangible things. I’m not skilled in this area. In literal practice, I stash and stockpile physical clutter. From an emotional, intangible perspective, I accumulate private offenses without really thinking about how negatively it affects me to hold them so close. I’m also pretty adept at keeping a running list of ways I’m disappointed in myself—for failure to meet goals, failure to keep myself together, and every other shade of self-criticism that finds its way to my soul.
It all needs to go.
As I start the summer, I want to simplify my heart, my schedule, and my home. I want to let go of unrealistic expectations and focus on what truly matters. I want to forgive others and untangle myself from the grip of bitterness. I want to identify the unproductive guilt and shame that often hangs over my head and instead take hold of the freedom Christ offers me as I seek Him.
Bob Goff, author of Love Does and Everybody Always, uses Thursdays as a marker in the week to ‘quit something’. He understands that to make room for the most important things, other things must be cut out of the picture. I love the intentional practice of setting aside a day every week to do that, and I truly believe it matters when we talk of releasing the things in our lives that are not serving us well.
The simple choice to release something is not a magical fix for all things, but it is a powerful decision to surrender our self-fueled efforts in exchange for God-inspired perspective, rest, vision, purpose and progress forward. We can’t expect those new, wonderful things without letting go of the old hindrances that are robbing us of peace.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB
Summer uniquely provides opportunities to enrich relationships like no other season of the year. I have a house full of kids, and summer is a bit of an adventure for us, not least of all because we are a circus unto ourselves.
Making memories is high on my priority list, but not because I feel the need to dazzle my kids with all kinds of entertainment. On the surface, memory-making is about fun, but at the core, it’s about building the connection between us. Sometimes that connection is tended when we try new things or visit new places together. Other times, it’s accomplished by eliminating distraction and keeping our schedule intentionally lean in favor of humble home rhythms.
To protect our calendar from getting too busy, I examine every opportunity before it is added to our schedule to ensure that each activity we are committed to serves a purpose. I find the following questions also help me determine if our “down” time at home is working for us, and whether the things we are considering committing to out of the house are worth our time.
Will it bring our family closer together?
Will it enrich our relationships with friends and extended family members?
Does it proactively inspire or encourage my children or just “fill their time”?
Does it reflect our declared family values and priorities?
This summer we’re making a family bucket list of local attractions we’d love to visit together in staycation style, writing out a list of family movies we’ve been wanting to see (or revisit) together, brainstorming a list of desserts we’d love to make (and eat) together, and planning some day trips to explore the outdoors.
Strengthening our family relationships is one sacred rhythm of summer that has become dear to me. It helps me surrender my unrealistic expectations of having ‘The Best Summer Ever’ in favor of having ‘The Best Summer Together’.
As you look ahead to your summer plans, what new rhythms will you explore? Take time to reflect, release, and brainstorm how to best tend to the most important relationships in your life.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14 NASB
This essay originally appeared on the blog for Joyful Life Magazine.
Emily Sue Allen is the founder of Kindred Mom, and she hosts/produces the Kindred Mom podcast. She is a contemplative, creative soul who celebrates the beauty of a humble, handmade life and deeply values the power of encouragement. She lives with her husband and six kids in the Pacific Northwest, and personally blogs at emilysueallen.com. Find Emily on Instagram.
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