by Candice Watters
This is the time of year when moms are counting down the days until school ends and summer begins. I’m so ready for a break after a busy school year, I could just breathe a huge sigh of relief, grab a pitcher of lemonade, and head for the nearest hammock in the spirit of A.A. Milne who said, “People say, ‘nothing is impossible,’ but I do nothing every day!”
As a mother of many children, doing “nothing” may very well be impossible. And yet it’s still tempting, and probable, to be busy, but find summer slipping away without much to show for it. A little intentionality can go a long way to making summer restful and fruitful.
It’s helpful to ask yourself some questions before the last school bell rings, or test is taken, or report is finished. Grab a journal and a quiet half-hour (or even 10 minutes), then consider:
Summer should feel less busy but it shouldn’t just happen to you. You should happen upon it. Bring wisdom to summer. Wisdom prepares. Proverbs 9:1-2 says, “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.”
This stands in sharp contrast to the “sluggard,” or lazy person, of whom Proverbs 24:33-34 says, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little filing of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”
Though the easiest path is to just let summer unfold, some preparation will go a long way in the season ahead. Here are some suggestions:
Plan. What will be your focus? It’s easy to start with an unending wish list of things you hope to do. Better to pare it down to what matters most, and then, if you finish ahead of schedule, add a few more things to your list. In the absence of a plan, we tend to dream big but accomplish little.
Last summer I encouraged each of our kids to set big reading goals for the summer. Our library offered prizes for reading 10 books each. “Not enough,” I declared. “Why not 50?!” They were game. But a few weeks in, I did the math. Over the 12 weeks of summer, that would require they complete a little more than four books a week! They’re strong readers, but that’s crazy. I readjusted the goal and we worked toward the 50 books as a family. We had a good laugh, and all told, we finished 34. We were short of our goal, but within range. And we enjoyed working together toward the goal.
Once you set your goals, it helps to note the steps each of those goals will require. For example, our reading goal, something we set every summer, requires a start-of-the-summer trip to the library. It helps if I’ve ordered some well-selected books ahead of time. Planting a garden? You’ll need to buy the supplies, prep the soil, plant the seeds, and take time each day to water and, as often as necessary, to weed. Set your goals, then sketch out the steps you’ll need to take to reach them.
Pray. What does God want you to do with summer; with longer, less-structured days; with more hours with your children? What do they need from you in this season away from formal schooling? What about your marriage? Maybe this is the time to plan regular dates with your spouse. Or maybe it’s the time to start a regular game night with your family. Do you consistently read the Bible and pray together as a family? If not, this is a good season to start. Ask God for wisdom and guidance. He is faithful to give it! James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
Pray more. Later starts without the pressure to get your kids to school, or to get school started, can mean time to read more of the Bible, and study what you read. Spend a longer time in the Word each morning, relishing the absence of “the-school-bus-is-coming” pressure.
Nourish your whole person. After you’ve spent time in the first things of Bible reading and prayer, take time throughout the day to feed your mind and soul. Read. Be still. Listen. Think. In A Charlotte Mason Companion, author Karen Andreola writes:
I think it is a definite gain to the whole family when mother is able to take a little time to pursue her own interests, whether they be crafts, painting, sewing, gourmet cooking, a literature group, gardening, nature study, going to plays or ballets with her husband, bicycling, or ice skating. “I have no time for these simple pleasures,” is the mournful cry. Yes, there isn’t time for all of them. Think seasonally. One interest per season, coupled with thirty minutes of reading a day, may be all that is needed to keep up the Mother Culture and regain any lost enthusiasm for living. Billy Graham said, “Mothers should cultivate their souls, that in turn they may cultivate the souls of their children.”
Your kids aren’t the only ones who need a break for more play in the summer. What will you play at? Here are some ideas:
Summer reading. It’s not just for kids. Andreola says “keep three books going … a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and take up the one [you] feel fit for.” I like to read the more challenging books first thing in the morning, and move toward the lighter fare by bedtime. She recommends Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens. I would add Andrew Peterson, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and Johann Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson. For more ideas, see Sarah Clarkson’s Read for the Heart and the SimplyCharlotteMason.com’s bookfinder.
Last summer I started reading from her favorites list including Patricia St. John’s An Ordinary Woman’s Extraordiantry Faith, Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri, Elizabeth Prentiss’s Stepping Heavenward, and Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth’s Cheaper by the Dozen. This summer I’m planning to pick up where I left off with Maria Trapp’s The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
Get outside. Plant a garden. Take walks. Enjoy God’s creation and more daylight before it gets crazy hot. Eat your meals on the patio or deck. This can continue into the hot months in early morning and evening, with longer days and more light.
Unplug. Losing track of time online has a numbing effect and is rarely, if ever, refreshing. Turn off the TV, the computer, the Wii, your phone. While it’s entertaining to read and engage social media online (at least at first), it’s a lot like gorging on your favorite junk food: tastes great going down, but leaves you feeling heavy, tired, and frustrated that you missed out on some good fuel. Too much time online leaves me feeling guilty (or more accurately, sad) because of all the real life I’ve missed out on.
Get Moving. Light exercise is a great way to keep your energy up and kids love to join in (think tennis, swimming, nature walks, frisbee, etc.)
Make a new friend. Invite someone over for iced coffee. Reach out.
Cook and eat lighter. Plan a few menus. Try some new ingredients. Read through your cookbooks in search of new, lighter, recipes. Last summer I made chilled veggie and fruit soups. They were unexpectedly refreshing and tasted great!
Create beauty. Think fresh flowers. Clean sheets. Paint a wall, or a room. Create a peaceful place to read. Supply a basket of books beside your favorite chair. I love the way Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts, talks about making the most of what you already have. No need to buy anything new.
Enjoy the weeks ahead! Relish the down time. Enjoy God’s good gifts and be fruitful for His glory this summer.
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