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Soulful Summer - A time to restore - by Marie Guthrie

Summer is on its way!
The anticipation of summer is life giving. Living in the Midwest, I am guaranteed a long, gray winter. April is typically when I begin to hear uplifting outdoor sounds: birds chirping, children laughing and skateboards skidding the curbs. The warmth of the spring sun breaks through dark clouds. When my senses perk up, I feel my mood and attitude awaken from a deep freeze. As I shift my thinking from spring to summer, I have high expectations for great weather, less structure, vacation and fun.

What are you thinking about as summer approaches?

You may be mentally checking off the days on your program calendar. The finish line is near. As much as you enjoy seeing little smiling faces and hearing sweet singing voices, you are ready for a break. If you're responsible for Vacation Bible School (VBS), your summer might start late. If you are also a parent, summer is stressful because it means you need to lead VBS while the kids are home.

If your life is similar to mine, the summer season flies by too quickly. Many years, I don't have much hope that I'll feel more refreshed at the end of August than I was in the beginning of June.

High hopes for summer vs. our reality
The hard truth is that the demands of my full-time job, family and volunteer ministry keep me preoccupied most of the time. When summer passes and I don't soak it up to the fullest, Ifeel resentful.

This negative emotion sparks guilt—which moves into self-condemnation. I may have either overcommitted at work or church or missed one too many quality moments with my family. Moving from high expectation to disappointment and then to guilt is a bad cycle. I can confidently say that God doesn't want this for you or me. Yes, God wants us to be responsible and work with excellence and passion. Yet, His desire is that we delight in the treasures that life brings—our season of summer.

In his book Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul, Mark Buchanan shares that summer is a time to take pleasure in the good things God gives. Summer is about kingdom living. He says, "Kingdom living is not hurried, it is not worried and it abounds in fruit."

We don't need to align with a culture that encourages us to over-commit or become over-available to everyone but God.

Mark goes on to share, "Endless busyness is earwax against God's voice and a blindfold to God's presence ... but stillness re-awakens our wonder and attention and allows us to become freshly present with God, keenly attuned to His speaking." How can you and I ensure that, in the summer of 2012, we slow down to a pace where we can:

  • hear God's voice
  • see His beauty
  • taste His goodness
  • feel rejuvenation?

Make spiritual self-care a priority. We need to put God first. We don't need to align with a culture that encourages us to over-commit or become over-available to everyone but God. Somehow, it's become a badge of honor to say we work or volunteer 50-60 hours during the week and sneak in even more work on weekends. We are reachable 24/7 by cell phone, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. In the short term, we may get energy from the pace of a busy life just as we get a jolt from an energy drink. Yet we need to be wise and realize that eventually the caffeine high starts to dip and often plunges into a crash.

One of my favorite pieces of self-care wisdom comes from a very unlikely place—the safety speech just before airplane departure. "In case of a loss of oxygen in the airplane's cabin, the oxygen mask will drop down in front of you. If you are with a child, put your oxygen mask on first. Then, put on the oxygen mask of the child next to you."

This act feels counterintuitive, doesn't it? Putting on our own mask first? Who wants to do this? We want to immediately help the child close to us. Yet, to paraphrase, if you really want to help your child through a tragedy, you must breathe fresh air, the source of life, yourself.

Little does the FAA realize that this directive is a biblical principle. God shows us throughout Scripture that it is for our well being that we gain sustenance and refreshment in Him first. Some of the most often-repeated verses illustrate this fact.

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul." Psalm 23:2-3

"I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." John 15:5

We experience true life in God's presence. Knowing this, it is foolish to preplan our summer schedule with "good things" and put the needs of our hearts and souls last. In so doing, we ignore the very One we follow.

Purposefully connect with God. Feeling a lack of contentment with a fleeting summer, I committed to making summer appointments with God. I didn't assume that God would join me in what I was doing but that I needed to join Him in what He was doing and where He was. I began by leaving open blocks of time in my week. I also had to make a financial investment in my "dates with God"—another trackable way to hold myself accountable.

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