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The Spiritual Consequences of Summer

The Spiritual Consequences of Summer

Yellow buses, backpacks, new notebooks. Although it’s not quite the same for us homeschoolers, August/September ends up being “back to school” for us, too. Yes, we “do school” throughout the summer some, but not nearly as intensely or consistently, so the re-start-up is often a bit rocky.

Or a lot.

Like, whining and complaining non-stop. Like, cries of, “But we haven’t had time to PLAY!” when the announcement comes to get out the books. Like, looking at Math concepts we’ve done for weeks and yelling, “I don’t KNO-OOOOOWWWWW!” while dramatically flopping oneself over the table like a rag doll to punctuate the point.

It’s enough to make me curse summer.

I have launched a serious get-back-on-track effort, which I call my Back-to-Homeschool Campaign, that usually does the trick to remedy the cloudy minds and dismal attitudes, but it usually takes a couple of weeks before my home school becomes peaceful again. This year, the startup challenges have opened my eyes to a spiritual truth – one that, unfortunately, applies to me, and not just my kids.

It’s about the effects of summer.

Well, not really summer, exactly, but what summer represents.

Summertime for we homeschoolers is like a bit of a reprieve from life. It is full of vacations and camp and movies and cook-outs and Vacation Bible School and the beach. Sure, we do school on days when we’re not doing anything else, but we tend to do a lot of something else. Friends come over to play, we go kayaking, we swim at the pool, we have sleepovers with playmates, we stay at cabins on the river…each day is an exciting adventure of “What are we going to do today?”

Summer is pleasure. Fun. Excitement. Summer is getting what we want.

Then comes the start-up of “real” school. The time when no one has to ask, “Are we doing school today?”, because they already know the answer. The time when we get back down to business, we keep a consistent academic routine, the vacations stop, and life becomes more normal again. More normal, and quite a bit less fun.

It’s not surprising that bad attitudes emerge. Math and English, however stimulating, just can’t hang with beach trips and overnight camping. When the default circumstance is fun and pleasure, responsibility and work seems like really sloppy seconds.

It’s a principle that applies to a lot more than just kids going back to school.

Fun, pleasure, circumstances going our way – it’s what most of us yearn for. Just like children on summer break, we desire excitement and enjoyment and entertainment. New houses, cool technological gadgets, a new direction, special vacations…or even just prayers that God will “make it all better” – we want to feel good, all of the time. But I see, in my kids, a principle that I think is at work in all of us –

Getting consistent doses of pleasure can hurt us.

Yes, just like the summer turns my children into whining workaphobes who seem to think they deserve to have a good time all the time, too much pleasure – too much getting what we want – can change our hearts for the worse. And I think it does so in 3 ways:

 

  1. Pleasure gives us a false sense of the world
  2. Pleasure makes us feel entitled
  3. Pleasure turns our focus on ourselves

False sense of the world

My kids, coming off of summer vacation, seem to think that “fun” is the default status of life. That going fun places and experiencing exciting activities and playing and enjoying are the stuff life is made of. Difficulty, effort, pain…those things don’t seem to exist. So they fight anything (say, academic work) that mars their picture-perfect world.

Pleasure can have the same effect on us.

 

  • “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” Ecclesiastes 7:4.
  • “I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 2:1

Solomon experienced more pleasure than most of us will in our entire lives. Yet he called it “meaningless” and expressed that the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.

I believe this is because Solomon knew the numbing effect pleasure has. Enough of it, and we can’t feel the pain of others. We begin to think that our experience, where things are going well, is the world’s experience, and we lose our sensitivity to the plight of humanity suffering the consequences of a fallen world. We get annoyed when Debbie Downer talks about her financial struggles (again), we rationalize our expenditures in the face of a starving world, and we complain about petty irritations as if they are earth-shattering problems. We forget that our pleasure-filled experience is vastly in the minority (and temporary), and that there is an earth full of people with overwhelming needs that we are in the position to help fill.

Mourning, pain – on the other hand – immediately puts us in the position to identify with the plight of others. It awakens us to need, and softens our hearts to respond to that need.

 

  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.

We think that pleasure – the good life – is where we want to be, all of the time. But it is actually the opposite that ultimately does what is best for us. It is through the difficulties, not the pleasures, that we are changed for the better, and best drawn to others and to God.

Entitlement

Summer does something else to my girls – it gives them a sense of entitlement. During the regular school year, they just expect that school will be done each day. As a result, whenever we do something impromptu, like take a field trip, they are especially excited and thankful. The regular routine of responsibility makes moments of fun and pleasure special and appreciated. On the other hand, during the summer it’s like the girls get drunk on fun. They begin to expect that fun is a “given”, and that they somehow deserve to have exciting, special events happening non-stop. Having to sit down and actually do academic work suddenly becomes a torturous experience, and they have very little gratitude for the pleasurable activities in which they were engaging. Yes, continual pleasure breeds entitlement and ingratitude, as “fun” erroneously replaces “responsibility” as the reigning principle of life.

This doesn’t just happen to kids after summer break, either.

Pleasure can make us all feel entitled. We deserve to be happy, to have fun, to feel excitement, to keep the good feeling going. We shouldn’t have to work hard, or go through difficulty, because the standard is pleasure. Responsibility, pain – they are ugly, damaging splatters that ruin the perfect painting of life.

 

  • “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.” Proverbs 21:17
  • “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3

And, because we feel entitled, we begin to lose our appreciation for pleasure. Feeling good becomes the status quo, and so any new good experiences just blend in with the atmosphere. We simply expect that pleasure is our right, rather than giving thanks to the One who gives all things good.

 

  • Give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” Psalm 107:8
  • “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.” Titus 3:3

On the other hand, painful, difficult times, or even the mundane routine of life, reminds us of our own personal need. When we don’t have enough – aren’t enough – to deal with our situation, we gain a humility about our place in the world, and a gratitude when help, comfort, or pleasure comes. Ironically, it is pain and suffering which best releases us from the bonds of entitlement and frees us to feel thanksgiving.

Focus on Self

Summer gets my kids focused on themselves. The going and doing, the activities and trips and excitement – it’s all about taking. Enjoying themselves. And it’s fun. But it is evident by their attitudes, when starting back to a life of responsibility, that it leads them to start believing that they should be able to do whatever they want to do…that the world revolves around them.

Pleasure can do the same for us.

It makes us put emphasis on ourselves, and our own desires, rather than on the Lord and on others. We begin seeking ways to find fulfillment for ourselves rather than seeking ways to serve our God and those in need. Pleasure has the ability to put blinders on us so that we are unable to see anything beyond “self”, and can con us into believing that “self” is where our efforts and energy should be invested. In this way, pleasure has the potential to damage our soul.

 

  • “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” Luke 8:14
  • “But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” 1 Timothy 5:6
  • “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, … lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” 2 Timothy 3:1-5

But the daily walk of life, the frustrations and difficulties and responsibilities and sorrows – they point us outside of ourselves. They make us realize what we lack, how much we need, and how incredibly insufficient we are. And it is that realization which draws us to others and to the Lord.

Why We Don’t Always Get Pleasure

Yes, this is a fallen world, and that alone is the cause for much of the pain and difficulty we experience in life. But I also believe that we, with our sinful, human natures, could not handle continual pleasure on this earth. The lure of selfishness pleasure brings would overtake us. Ironically, the very thing we always seek is the thing that can end up killing us.

It took pain, Jesus’ pain, to put us in the place to be able to experience non-stop pleasure – but not in this world. No, in this world, the price of sin has to be paid by the Lord using pain and difficulty and discomfort to change us into the kinds of beings who can handle eternal pleasure in heaven – who can handle Him.

So, I get it when my kids whine. They’ve had just a little too much of the good life. It takes a few weeks of routine, responsibility, hard work – and maybe even a little real, painful difficulty – to get them back on track so that they can be diligent workers who focus on the Lord and on serving other people, and who demonstrate gratitude for all of the good they experience.

Kind of like what it takes for me. And all the rest of us.

So next time the Lord puts me through the “back-to-life-school” routine, I will try not to complain. Because, as fun as the summer is, it’s not what makes me more like Him.

We head off, in this home school, willing to take on whatever the fall may bring.

 

 

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