If your family’s summer has not already started, it is at least in sight. Kids out of school, trips to camp, longer days, vacations, and oppressive heat are just some of the things that mark this time of year. As we all begin the pivot into this season, we should also be contemplating how to ensure we are not going to miss the fruit of these coming months—and I am not talking about watermelon or Georgia peaches.
There is something quite distinctive about June, July, and part of August. In some ways it is a much easier time of year to alter behavior and choices. Everything seems more lenient. Time seems to expand. Margins are created that give us more moments for rest and for fun. Margins are created that give us more moments for reflection. And margins are created that give us more moments for pushing the restart button on any number of fronts.
The question then becomes how we will steward these margins. At least part of the answer lies in being more intentional because stewardship does not “just” happen.
In today’s blog post, I want to encourage you to hit the refresh and restart button this summer. After the past fifteen months, this might be more important this year than any other time in recent years because of covid. Some of us have returned to post covid activity while the rest of us are still transitioning back to normalcy. In case you have not heard it, let me remind you of the quote (author unknown) that made the rounds at the beginning of the lockdown, “In our desire and urgency to return to a normal life, make sure that we are rushing back to things worth returning to.” This is a rough paraphrase, but we all get the sentiment, and we all should heed its caution.
Why Make the Effort?
Colossians 3:23 should immediately come to mind,
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for human masters,” —Colossians 3:23 (NIV)
If the Word of God seems too removed from your practical daily lives, let me give you a more earthly example. If you were to make a list of the top ten active college football coaches, Nick Saban (Alabama) and Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) would be counted among the best. Both coaches have proven their adeptness in pivoting whenever necessary for the sake of pursuing excellence and achieving winning results. Saban has done this over an extremely long period of time. He has mastered the art of the pivot and elevated it to a point where it has become like a machine that keeps cranking out winning records year after year.
However, Brian Kelly is the more interesting case study for our purposes. In 2016 Kelly posted one of the worst seasons he had ever had with a 4-8 record. In case you are not familiar with college football, you should know that 4-8 seasons are completely unacceptable at an institution like Notre Dame. At the end of this season, Kelly made a number of courageous decisions. Whether or not he was motivated by self-preservation or the pursuit of excellence or some of both does not really matter. The point is that Kelly took a long hard look at himself and his program. He completely overhauled his program in the off season. While at the same time, recognizing that to be an effective leader he needed to be scrutinizing himself personally as well. This kind of honest and courageous pivoting has produced radical results for Notre Dame’s football program. No, they have not won a national championship (that is extremely difficult to do), but it has made them contenders for the past several years. And everyone in the industry has taken note of the changes and its fruit.
What a perfect picture of the value of assessing our own lives and the willingness to pivot where necessary. Our prayer would be that you are motivated or inspired to audit where you find yourself in this season. There is much fruit waiting to be harvested and deeper satisfaction within reach with this kind of intentional living. An unevaluated life does not possess or promote the courage needed to steward well our God given gifts.
Where to Begin?
Taking all these things into account, let us consider the possibilities of the warmer days ahead by beginning at the most important place—on our knees. Take this next week and daily bring your life before the Lord in prayer. This is not because He needs to know because He already knows, rather do it out of obedience and reverence to our Heavenly Father.
“in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight”
—Proverbs 3:6 (NIV)
“Yet regard the prayer and plea of Your servant, O LORD my God, so that
you may hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying before
you today” —I Kings 8:28 (NIV)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and
petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” —Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
Scripture makes it clear in these passages and numerous others that we are to bring ourselves to the Lord. Begin your prayer by offering thanksgiving and praise before moving onto asking for forgiveness. Then, begin asking the Holy Spirit to move you and reveal to you: What areas of life (marriage, work, relationships, etc.) should I focus on this summer? And how might I grow spiritually?
As you wrestle with these questions before the Lord, try to put yourself in a posture of listening. The best way to do this is carve out a few minutes in an environment where distractions are at a minimum every day. Ask God to speak (not audibly) to you. If quiet is a hard thing to achieve in your home, then take a walk or a drive to pray and reflect.
After a week of this, then begin identifying specific things you can do in order to grow and mature throughout the coming couple of months.
Goals for the Summer
There are times when I have been challenged to reflect on my habits and rhythms along with where am I struggling and where do I need to grow. Surprisingly, I am not always sure of the answers. Maybe it is because I am really good at justifying the poor habits of my life or maybe I can’t see the forest for the trees. Regardless, I often need help. This is why the following goals have been compiled and to be fodder for your own reflection and consideration (goals are not listed in any particular order):
1. Intentionally, Be More Aware—Whether sensitivity is a strength or a challenge for you, it is important to make an extra effort in this area. The backlash from covid is real and ever present. If you experienced loss or sickness at the beginning of the lockdown, you may be “over” covid at this point. However, there are some who are just now encountering this virus in up close and personal ways. In the past four months, I know more people personally who have died or come down with a serious case of covid or who have had to quarantine (myself included) from exposure. Additionally, there is a weariness that seems to lay on top of life right now that manifests itself in numerous ways. Therefore, let us make an effort to be more kind and understanding with one another, while being aware of each other’s struggles.
2. Intentionally Be an Encourager—For all the reasons I mentioned in the above section and more. Life is hard whether we are in a pandemic or not. When we encounter one another seek out ways to be encouraging.
3. Intentionally Get Outdoors—Genesis 1:30-31 tells us, “And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.” While creation did not escape the fall, I know that it is still good. All I must do is look at the hydrangeas that are blooming in my front yard and the beauty they represent or the three-day old baby cardinals that have hatched outside the window of my laundry room. Creation is on display all around us and it is good for our souls to drink it in. Even as the temperature rises, we can still take walks in the cool of the morning or evening and at a minimum sit outside if we are restricted physically. Summer is a great time to rent a canoe or take a paddle board lesson or visit one of the many state parks that are well within reach. Figure out something to breath in fresh air because it will help to refresh our inner self.
4. Intentionally Be In Scripture—Put down our beloved devotionals and pick up our Bibles. Too often we are reading about what someone else thinks of certain passages rather than reading the Bible ourselves. This is one goal where I can hear the hue and cry now. Regardless of your reasons for using devotional materials or other things, this summer commit to reading the Bible. This may be a challenge at first but allow the power of God’s Word to work. If we are not in the Word, then we are just giving away that gift God intended for you and for me. If this is a new practice for you, I would NOT recommend a Read Through the Bible in a Year plan. There are too many opportunities for discouragement. This summer we need to set attainable goals. My recommendation would be to either start in the Psalms or Proverbs or John. Set a goal of reading a chapter or a Psalm five days a week and on the weekend set a goal of spending an extended time in prayer. Do not hesitate to ask God to give you insight into what you are reading. Do not hesitate to plead with the Holy Spirit to move you to make and keep your commitment to be in the Word. If you are already regularly in the Scriptures, then well done and keep up the good work.
5. Intentionally, Commit Yourself to the Church—For the past fifteen months, our church rhythms have been anything but normal. One of God’s sweet graces over this time is all the technology that allows us to connect and observe our worship services. Even with this gift the Lord never intended worship to solely be transmitted via pixels. The people of God need to (and are called to) gather in person for the sake of worship. It is possible that in the upside-down world we have been living in that you have not felt the loss of being in worship. Do not let this fool you, because there has been a loss. Summer may be a difficult time to get your church attendance back on track. However, I am asking that you plan and commit now to be all in on church come August. Of course, there is nothing wrong with starting this summer, but if you are traveling and in and out of town then commit to August and put it on your calendar.
6. Intentionally, Read More—Summer is a great time to up your reading intake. If this sounds like drudgery read something that excites you like fiction, non-fiction, biographies, or even articles. Because I read a lot that is work related, I sometimes struggle in this area, but I know when I have not been reading because I am not as sharp. One thing that has helped me is to carve out time is to read anything I want that is not work related. I do not know if it is only psychological or something else, but I do find this freeing. Reading has a way of transporting our minds elsewhere and stimulating our creativity in ways that other things cannot. See our last blog post for a list of recommended books, if you are looking for suggestions.
7. Intentionally, Evaluate Where You Are Now—This has already been addressed in the first part of this article, but it is worth including in our summer goals.
Hopefully, these seven goals will give you some concrete ideas about what tweaks and steps you can take in order to hit the refresh and restart button. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather one that will stir your imagination as to what will work for you. One thing to keep in mind is that if you have been doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result then trust me you need to make a change. Otherwise, you are living the definition of insanity (and we are all guilty of doing this.)
As the summer dawns, may the Lord fill us with desire, discipline, and dedication to courageously pivot in the areas we are prompted by the Holy Spirit. May He refresh our souls through improved habits and may the joy of our salvation be renewed.
Summer goals here we come!
Crosland Stuart, of Crosland & Company, LLC, works with The Collaborative on marketing, recruiting, and content creation. Additionally, she also works in the areas of foundation consulting, communications, and is a literary agent.