Back to School, Back to Better Rhythms

Some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). That is to say, sometime in the winter months here in the Midwest, when there has been cloud cover for something like 100 straight days and the ground is brown and frozen and there are no leaves on the trees and it gets dark at 4:00 in the afternoon, some people struggle with depression.

My SAD is a little different. My SAD starts to settle in around the first of August, when it’s hot and steamy outside. It’s not so much about the actual season for me but rather about the metaphorical season.

Every year, when school lets out in late May, I’m so happy. It’s so good to throw off the shackles of regular bed times and being on kids’ case about homework. The freedom of the first days of summer are so life giving! And because I have a highly flexible job (both a blessing and a curse sometimes) I can take a day here or there to do stuff with my family, or I can shift my hours, going in early, so I can leave early to get to a baseball game.

But by the beginning of August, the lack of structure, the lack of rhythm starts to work against me. The freedom that was so invigorating and life giving in late May becomes the very thing that keeps me from the disciplines that nourish my soul.

And so, to that end, today I’m celebrating the return of my children to school. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, and we’ve had a great summer together. I think Jennifer and I find ourselves enjoying our children more and more all the time. But I need them back in school so I can get myself back into the rhythms that make me healthy and productive.

I need to get back to the rhythm of reading. For all of my adult life, reading has been the thing that stimulates my creativity. It’s the fuel that helps me formulate my thoughts about the things I teach and the conversations I have with people. Reading – both fiction and nonfiction –  inspires me to see the world, myself, and God differently. I’ve been in a reading slump that pre-dates the summer. But I’ve been carving out time in the mornings to read again. And I was shutting off Netflix and reading in the evenings again, until the stupid Olympics happened. But that will be over soon.

[Disclaimer: in the Dean house, we are Olympics junkies. We’ll watch anything. People jumping on a trampoline? Check. People riding dancing horses? Why not, as long as the horse gets the medal? The television is never on in the Dean house as much as it is every couple of years during the Olympics. So, I have nothing against the Olympics, except that it does screw up my reading discipline!]

I need to get back to the rhythm of good discussion. One of the things I know about myself – and I know this isn’t true of everyone – is that I need regular, life-giving, good discussions in my life. I need groups of people around me who want to read, talk, think and interact about ideas. I think it’s related to the rhythm of reading, but in time, reading without discussion becomes a bit empty for me. I’m not sure what this looks like in this season of my life, but I’m playing with some ideas in my head.

I need to get back to the rhythm of regular exercise. The combination of kids’ baseball, a pretty severe hand injury, and oppressive heat have done their toll on my rhythms. Once our summer travel ended and my hand healed, I started back on this one and since the first of August, I’ve been aggressively working out. I can’t tell you how good it is for me to drown myself in sweat, to push my body to the point of throwing up. It’s good for me to feel the ache of well-exercised muscles. It’s good for my body, and I don’t exactly understand the connection, but it’s good for my emotions and for my soul as well.

And related to exercise, I need to get back into a rhythm of eating well. Right now Jennifer and I are doing something of an extreme diet. And I hate wacky diets, but there is something good in this season about being a little extreme. It’s a good detox from a summer full of feasting. I read an author a couple years ago (I think it was Shauna Niequist) who suggested that there should be seasons of feasting and seasons of fasting in our lives. The problem is, at least in our circles, it seems that it’s always a season of feasting. So, embracing a season of fasting, embracing some austerity in what I drink and eat is good.

And finally, I need to get back into a rhythm of prayer. And by prayer these days I mean ALL the ways that we communicate AND commune with God. For me, that doesn’t mean long lists, or wordy prayers. It more like written prayers – The Prayer of St. Francis, Thomas Merton’s “Prayer that Anyone Can Pray,” Celtic Prayers – and quiet meditation/contemplation. In the last week it’s meant reading Richard Rohr’s Yes, And… in the mornings quietly, slowly and then giving myself quiet time to ease into my day.

So, happy back-to-school day.

I hope that you, like me, find and pursue the rhythms of your life that sustain you and make you whole.


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