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Resting in Christ While Savoring the Simple Joys This Summer

Happy summer!

It is the time of the year in North America that children (and, many times, their teachers, too!) anticipate for months. School lets out for a length of time, routines change, and life is different. It is a good and much-needed respite. But do we parents anticipate the summer as our children do? If not, why not? Should we?

Many of us eagerly await the additional time with our children while simultaneously feeling overwhelmed. How will we keep them busy all summer? What will they do? How can we keep them learning? How can we make sure they don’t lose any of their freshly-acquired skills that they have just learned this year in their studies? What can we do to encourage their growth, both physically and mentally? How can we multiply their positive social skills? How can we best help them to rest from the intensity of school? Considering all of these questions simultaneously is daunting, and aiming for perfection with each is nearly impossible.

Contrast the stress of trying to meet society’s picture of “perfect parenting through a summer break” with Matthew 11:28-30. In this passage, we read about peace, gentleness of heart, souls at rest, and a burden which is light. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” It appears, from this scripture, that Christ (who spoke these words) is willing to shoulder the stresses that we have, if we are willing to learn from Him and take up His yoke. A yoke is a piece that allows two creatures to share a burden or a workload. So, in this passage, our Lord is asking us to share in His work while simultaneously trusting Him to help carry our load.

But how does an already overwhelmed parent take up the yoke of Christ? Perhaps a good place to begin is by focusing our attention on the areas of prayer and trust. Prayer allows us to communicate with Him what is overwhelming us and in what areas we are feeling inadequate. It offers us the opportunity to be still before God. It allows us to lift others up before Him, reminding us that the world is beyond us and our personal (or familial) stresses. Prayer will also help us to better see what work He has for us to do. But what about trust, you may ask? Trust is the true test of taking up the yoke. Do we really trust God to carry His end of the load and to lead us to do the work that He has for us? Or do we try to micromanage Him in addition to our children and their summer schedules?

This summer, instead of focusing on the stress-inducing questions above, let each of us parents focus on Matthew 11:28-30. Let us challenge ourselves to come to God with all of our stress and our concerns. Let us take up His yoke, sharing the burden with Him. In doing so, may we indeed find rest for our souls. If we do so, we will be able to truly anticipate this time with our children. If that is the case, then it will indeed be a happy summer!

As you work on simplifying your own stress load through prayer and trust, consider making “simplify” the theme for your summer! Here are some ideas of ways to help your children to have a simpler summer, as well:

  • Model “resting in Christ” by allowing your children to see you spending time in daily prayer time, especially if they do not usually see you do so. Invite them to join you if they wish to. Consider beginning the day with a regular time of prayer together (adjusted according to age and ability of your children, of course) coupled with a few minutes of quietness. Being still before God is about as countercultural as you can get, and it will benefit the entire family to learn to do so even if only for a very short time each day. These moments of resting in Christ and being still will go a long way in setting a simpler tone for each day of your summer!
  • Consider making one evening a week “simple joys” night. Spend that night playing very basic childhood games together, chasing fireflies, watching the sunset, learning to whistle with a blade of grass, etc. If you have a rainy “simple joys” night, play hide and seek inside your whole house, read aloud together, or creating and playing with these fun shooters. The key is to do something together with minimal equipment and maximum creativity and/or stillness of heart!
  • Encourage your children’s creativity with simple activities. Perhaps you could challenge your children to create their own games from time to time. One challenge could be this: gather recycled materials in lunch bags, give one bag to each child, and have them use everything in it to create a game that everyone will have a turn to play.
  • Spend time in nature. Take your family hiking at different places throughout the summer. Allow time and space for your children to get dirty and wet. Make mudpies. Float sticks in races. Plant things and watch them grow. God is there, and your heart will be still if you allow it the simple joy of time outside.
  • Keep basic art supplies readily available (paper, pencil/pen/marker/colored pencil/crayons/watercolors/clay/etc.) so that your children can create at will. You won’t regret the money spent or the creativity that comes alive when your children have the opportunity to try different mediums in their self-expression. You may regret the volume of items gifted to you for display, but the love and creativity behind them should be your focus!
  • Many simple summer memories begin with books! Generate your own (don’t worry, it really is simple) reading rewards program like this: Need an easy, stress-free place to start when it comes to reading? Find an alphabetical-themed list of essential Orthodox books here.
  • Encourage your children to create simple toys. If they have enough of their own already, encourage them to make them to give as gifts to others - either neighbors, hospitalized children, or other children in your parish who would enjoy them. Here are some simple toys that can be created at home. (Tuck away this website to check out sometime when you need to find fun ideas for science, art, design, and engineering activities for kids!