“A [person’s] needs are few. The simpler the life, therefore, the better. Indeed, only three things are truly necessary in order to make life happy: the blessing of God, the benefit of books, and the benevolence of friends. With the magnificence of eternity before us, let time, with all its fluctuations, dwindle into its own littleness.” Thomas Chalmers
Summer vacation onset
Ever since my early teens, I have always felt uneasy nearing the end of each school year. For me, the transition to summer vacation always meant abrupt changes in my friendships with my school and church peers, my intensity and structure of schedule, and my physical location.
I often felt lonely, bored, and displaced.
It felt like I fell into an annual rut. I would be all caught up in a frenzied binge, studying for final exams, and redeeming time with friends before we disbursed. I gave little thought to how I might plan or structure my summer, let alone use it for God’s glory or serve others.
Following my overdose of intellectual stimulation and time spent with classmates, my studies and associations with peers suddenly fell away. Until the last final exam, I was disciplined and forcing my brain to function at full capacity. Post exams I seemed to always collapse exhausted, become undisciplined, and fall into intellectual atrophy. My expectations for intellectual stimulation and brain exertion went from all to nothing.
I also didn’t have the same amount of consistent time to hang out with friends at school or church during the summer months. It was harder to get together logistically. Summer plans also took us in multiple directions, taking us apart from one another.
Childhood summer nostalgia
As I neared the end of each school year, I longed to relive the summers of my childhood. Those ideal childhood summers afforded me huge amounts of free time to explore the outdoors, play, travel, and camp. I still managed to have loads of free time to do whatever I wanted.
Those were cherished childhood memories, the couple of months out of the year that I got to do things that I never got to do during a busy school year, or when the Canadian winter was too cold and nasty to enjoy.
As I matured, I bemoaned that my need to work and make money interfered with all my free flowing childhood summer plans. I was begrudging my need to become an adult. Although my free time was diminishing with the onset of adulting, my diminishing amounts of free time forced me to be much more mindful about what I was going to do with it.
God is redeeming my summers
In high school, within the first week of no fixed classes, labs, or exams, my time seemed to fill quickly with endless time wasters. I got mostly absorbed in media. Much of the entertainment I watched fed my greedy, selfish, and sinful desires.
But in my last year of high school I desired something different. I became a summer missionary with Child Evangelism Fellowship. I toured the prairie provinces and stayed with gracious Christian hosts in various towns and cities.
When I arrived at my host’s home, I would go around the surrounding neighbourhoods inviting children in the neighbourhood to the Bible clubs I was leading. For a few hours in each location, five days a week, I would share the gospel with kids, tell them bible stories, sing songs with them, and tell them missionary stories. It was a big step of faith for me. I was scared. But I found it so fulfilling. I ended up doing this work for two summers.
Looking back, I wished I would have discovered earlier what God’s priorities and purposes were for my summers. Relying only on my own selfish and ambitious plans for fun and leisure quickly translated into a lot of selfishly spent time and little spiritual growth.
Thankfully, during my time with Power to Change Students in university I continued to learn how to better walk with Jesus and invest my summers in more ways that were honouring him and satisfying to me.
I was hugely impacted by going on short term mission trips where I learned to prioritize my walk with God, good books, and authentic friendships. I increased my time devoted to reading the bible and good books that gave me spiritual input. I was learning to value what God values in my free flex time called summer.
It was in my university years that I started to discover that my summer needs are quite basic. Here are three simple priorities for my summer:
I need to grow my love for Jesus this summer
In my early teen years I didn’t realize I could use my summers to grow my faith and apply the message of Jesus to every area of my life. My desires were inflamed by the greed and sensual content I consumed in the media. If anything, those mid-teen summers were characterized by an increased consumption of sensuality, greediness, and wanderlust. All these fires were threatening to consume and squeeze out my walk and faith in Jesus.
I sometimes continue to struggle to know how to walk with Jesus and close Christian friends during my summer months. I continue to see those dangerous fires threaten my faith.
Deepening my meditation on God’s word through reading, listening, studying, and praying is the primary means I build my relationship with Jesus.
I need to prioritize good books this summer
Since my late teens I have redeemed the extra free time of summer to listen to or read from a history of great Christian thinkers and writers. I need the wisdom of those who are more mature in the faith than I am, who have often been through much darker times, deeper pain, and persevered through greater suffering. I learn so much from their experiences, their life journeys, and their theological insights.
I am learning to find authors that resonate with me and then follow them to others who inspired them. For example, I resonate with Tim Keller as a speaker and author. When I listen to him I pay attention to who he is quoting. One person I noticed he quoted a lot is C.S. Lewis.
I started to read a lot of CS Lewis’s writings. I listened to youtube videos giving insights into his life and writings. I even went to see a live theatre dramatization of his relationship with Tolkein. In the past year I have learned so much from both Lewis’ fiction and nonfiction.
In my experience, his fictional narratives have influenced me powerfully. I identify with many of the characters and what they experience. They unlock and help me understand parts of my story that I would have never seen without them. I have been pleasantly surprised at how well I relate to characters in good fiction. When I read, I know I am not alone.
I have also been hugely blessed by the digital availability of sermons and talks from the likes of Keller, Chandler, Alcorn, and Nouwen. I am listening to a wide spectrum of people of faith. What a powerful tool. I can scan YouTube or any number of digital archives for seemingly endless good content.
To be honest, I have always struggled to read. I know, how weird is that? Being a writer and all. But I can still engage with a lot of material by listening.
I need to prioritize authentic friendships this summer
Hebrews 10:25 reminds me to not give up meeting together with like-minded friends who love Jesus and mutually encourage one another in faith. I need close and authentic friends with whom I can confess struggles and sins, receive grace and accountability. I value the opportunity to pray with these friends and be renewed in our faith together.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV)
I need authentic friends who can journey with me consistently through all the changes of relationships and travels of summer. I need ongoing check-ins with them. We all need a place where we can share our lives authentically, receive care, and pray for each other.
I need consistency in my relationships. I need friends who I give permission to get in my face and keep me accountable and grounded in my walk with God. If I start to stray from scheduled check in times with these friends during the summer months, my friends call me. We make use of technology to keep in touch when we are not in the same physical location.
Ironically, even though I have often placed myself in ideal conditions during my summer months, like a mission trip for example, this means I am often surrounded with new people, those I don’t share a depth of history with.
It is difficult for me to go deep and share vulnerably my struggles with sin with just anyone who is a Christian. If I don’t have a long and trusted history with them, it takes time to build depth of relationship and trust and safety.
One of the dangers of modern culture is the constant relational and locational changes I go through in a school calendar year. I have noticed a tendency towards a lack of consistent relationships that ground me in and keep me safe with ongoing accountability.
The people I am closest to and relate to in summer changes with my demographics, and are always shifting. In summer I have discovered that I need continuity of these meetings with close friends.
I also need some healthy social experiences with friends and family: playing a game, going for a hike or a bike ride, going out for a meal or a drink with a good friend, all saturated with good authentic conversation. Connecting with friends through prayer and God’s word is also critical. I prioritize travel and reschedule to make these kind of conversations happen.
In summer I have discovered that I need continuity of these meetings with close friends.
My summer needs are simple
I am learning my need to keep my summer simple. I want to prioritize the consistent preaching of the gospel to my own soul, read books and listen to sermons and talks, and all the while deepening those stabilizing and authentic long-term friendships.
My many ambitious and even good plans to enjoy my summer can tempt me to grab all my dreams for travel and leisure with gusto and totally forget and neglect what anchors me spiritually. I can flounder spiritually as a result. Instead of being renewed, I come back ill-prepared to engage in day to day life or the school year.
Thankfully God is teaching me a spiritually healthier perspective for my summer plans. If I can slow down, prioritize my relationship to God and authentic friends during the summer, I will have stronger faith in God and more relational satisfaction. My greatest need is nurture anything that grows my walk with God and friends who love Jesus.
Over the years I am increasingly trusting God that my summer months can be a spiritual greenhouse, not a vacation from God and his people. A season of growth in what matters.