Unexpected beauty on a summer bike ride

Last weekend I completed my own version of back-to-school shopping, stocking up on groceries and other household items to make the transition back to full-time work a bit easier. Already, many store aisles showcase fall decorations and Halloween candy. Pleeeaaase! It’s still August!

Tomorrow, school starts along with the rhythms of boarding-school life. My days will be filled with teaching, coaching, advising, meetings, and eating meals in the dining hall. It’s a full life (I wrote about what an “average” day looks like in a previous post). As much as I wish for the reentry process to go smoothly, I know there will be some surprises and frustrations over the next couple of weeks. This is key for me to recognize, and I imagine others too, no matter what our profession. Which is why I like the word “reentry”. It suggests a process—a passing of time—not a quick snap of the fingers and suddenly we’re back into the full swing of life. 

Emily P. Freeman talks about reentry in her podcast The Next Right Thing, episode 89. She took a sabbatical this summer and talks about how she came back to work, easing into her responsibilities. Her reflections and insights are helpful, no matter if you took a sabbatical or not. Another podcast I listen to regularly by Tsh Oxenreider, The Art of Simple, touches on this topic as well. She took a sabbatical for the month of July and recently shared some of what she learned from the experience

I didn’t take a sabbatical, but I did have off for most of the summer—one of the perks of the teaching profession. A colleague and friend describes the summer months for those working at a boarding school as “gold sifting through our fingers.” I love that expression and I try to savor every minute of these months. I felt this reality more this year because of having toe surgery in June. 

Before my surgery, I spent some time thinking about how I wanted these months to look. Unlike some summers, I was largely home. I called it my “Long Island Summer.”  I had lots of books I wanted to read, some school planning and writing projects I wanted to complete, along with an assortment of house projects I wanted to finish. I also knew I wanted to take some sort of break from social media.

I did read some books, and I did work on some school and writing projects. On the house front, only one of my projects—painting our family room—happened. I never went completely social media free, but I did post less, sometimes choosing not to post anything about an event or an experience. I had days where I didn’t check any feeds. 

The box checker in me could easily feel a sense of disappointment and let down, wishing I had made more progress on my writing projects or had spent more time on school planning (especially on the eve of a new school year). I could have been more diligent about fasting from social media usage. Surely, we could have found a way to clean and organize Brad’s office!  

I could allow the list of unfinished work to eat away at me, making me frustrated, even angry. 

But, why? Why make myself feel this way? No one is checking up on me to see what I did or didn’t do. No one is going to confront me and demand an explanation for why the office still needs to be cleaned. The truth is I do this to myself. I am the source of my own disappointment and frustration. 

I know I’m not the only one who does this. 

I’ve been reading the Gospel of Luke lately, working my way through this narrative slowly. I started reading Luke because of all the food references. A couple of the books I read this summer noted this about Luke’s account and it caught my attention. But, I’m also noticing something else. 

There’s always more work to be done. 

Jesus didn’t heal every person in the places he visited. Not everyone who heard his message responded. Yet, he accepted this reality. No where do we see Jesus anxiously wringing his hands about unfinished work or lashing out in anger and frustration at the unrelenting demands of his ministry.

What we do see is Jesus pulling away from the crowds for prayer and time with his Father—even in the midst of busyness. Sometimes he did this by himself; sometimes he did this with his disciples. As fully human, Jesus must have felt the pressure of his work like the rest of us. He became tired. He felt hunger. He experienced people’s disappointment and anger towards him. As fully God, he was able to see the larger picture. He had complete trust in his Father’s will for him. He didn’t fall into self pity or name calling when others were unkind.

So, that’s my mindset for reentry—to accept my limitations and to practice kindness towards myself. I won’t do this perfectly, of course. I’m learning as I grow older that so often the things that I think are a “big deal,” aren’t. If I can step away for a moment and gain perspective, I can see my circumstances more clearly. When I do this, it’s a win—for me, for my family and friends, for my situation. 

Let me leave you with this blessing from To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue. 

May the light of your soul bless your work

with love and warmth of heart.

May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal

 to those who see and receive your work.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your soul.

This blessing is for work:

May your work never exhaust you.

May it release wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration, and excitement.

May you never become lost in bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find hope in your heart,

Approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.

May your soul calm, console, and renew you

with love and warmth of heart.

Thanks for reading, friend. Blessings on your day and week.

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