Summer has finally arrived! It is time to go to the lake cottage, do some landscaping, plant a garden, even go on a vacation and find time away. All of these are beneficial and often greatly needed in our busy lives.
As my family and I started preparing for our summer vacation, I began to realize that much of my summer had been planned before it ever arrived and looked to be as stressful as the other 10 months of the year. There is so much going on in our summer schedules that we return from the cottage or from family vacations more exhausted than when we left. The landscaping and garden look great for a while, but weeds seem to sprout over night and tomorrow there is more work to be done. So we make priorities or eliminate things to make room for these “summer activities.”
Sadly, for too many, church is one of the first things cut. All of a sudden Sunday mornings seem to be a good time to mow the grass or get in a round of golf. Family vacations rarely include plans for finding a local church to attend on Sundays. Even at church, Bible studies, Sunday school and small groups cease over the summer months.
The additional busyness we call “church activities” become next to nothing in lieu of summer vacation (with the exception of Vacation Bible School, which often translates to daycare for busy parents). When all of this stops, what happens to our spiritual lives over the summer?
It is ironic that one of the only times in the year that we can take some needed downtime, we spend little if any of it on developing our faith. Though it isn’t a wise option, many of us put our faith on pause over the summer months, when we actually should be growing in our faith.
A major priority for all Christians should be the continual nurturing and sustaining of their spiritual lives. How odd to think of putting God on hold for the summer so we can be renewed. Something is undeniably wrong with that.
Throughout the year, weeds have grown in our spiritual gardens. The busyness of our lives, combined with the numerous church activities, has most likely taken a toll. We probably don’t need a break; we probably are burnt out from the stress and pressure of our lives that leave no time for reflection or contemplation about spiritual matters.
Like students during the school year, much of congregational education during those 10 months is based solely on informative processes – knowing and learning answers, Biblical competency, and Church history and doctrine.
Sadly, not much time is spent on formative processes, such as the influence of others, understanding values and beliefs, handling hardship, our environments, etc. Interestingly, the word “formation” is the root of many words that we as Friends use regularly – for example (re)formation, (trans)formation, even (in)formation.
In her book, “Soul Feast,” author Marjorie Thompson states that looking at our spiritual formation “…invites us to consider: What or whose form we are seeking? What in our personal or corporate life, needs to be re-formed?”
Summer is a great time for us to evaluate the past year from a spiritual perspective. It offers time to reflect on the choices we’ve made about our beliefs, values, commitments, patterns of life, and practices of faith – all things that have allowed Christ to be formed in us throughout the year.
In Robert Mulholland in this book, “Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation” I was first introduced to the formative side of my faith development. He succinctly defines Spiritual Formation as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”
For many Friends, our formation is either private or within the walls of the church on Sunday morning. Too often, little formation takes place outside the church or for the benefit of others.
This summer let’s begin to see, name and love God “in the flesh” of our everyday experiences, not just at church. Let’s not diminish God to mere information, learning doctrine or running through the motions of Bible studies or Sunday morning services.
I hope we can see Christ anew through walks in nature with our spouse or children, conversations with people we didn’t even know the day before, long car rides across the country, sunsets and sunrises, and the simplicity of watering the flowers growing in our gardens. Yet this is only the beginning. If you and I take the time to re-form ourselves, we may be surprised at just what and who God is using to spiritually form us over the summer months.
by Dr. Robert S. Henry, Pastor Silverton Friends Church