By Carmen Joy Imes

Making Peace with Academic Rhythms

It’s that time of year. I can feel it in my bones. In just a handful of days we’ll all be climbing back on the hamster wheel, arms loaded with books, schedules packed to the gills. Open days on the calendar slip through my fingers; my ambitious summer to-do list barely dented. Panic sets in. I like “back to school” season. But I need more time! I want more time to prepare for a new semester, more time to play with my kids, more time to “make something” of my summer. What do I have to show for these long hours with no classes, no assignments, no grading, no committee meetings?

I meant to be productive. I really did. This was my chance to get ahead. To knock out a chapter, an essay, a conference paper, a book review. This was the ideal time to breeze through all those books on my desk, waiting to be read. And what do I have to show for it? Nothing. At least nothing that “counts” on my C.V.

Photo by Bev Lloyd-Roberts LRPS

I’ve been baking bread. Shopping at the Farmer’s Market. Trying recipes with my kids. Hanging blinds in our new house. Picking blueberries. Painting the bathroom. Having dinner guests. Planting trees. Catching up on email. Camping. Hitting garage sales. Churning ice cream. Helping with Vacation Bible School. Pulling weeds. Shuttling the kids to summer camps. Gathering school supplies. Doing just one more load of dishes. All the while in the back of my mind are all the professional things I ought to be doing, things that will count when the new semester begins.

The anxiety of feeling pulled in multiple directions is familiar to anyone in academia. We simply can’t do everything that ought to be done in a 24-hour day. We have to choose. We are bound to disappoint someone — an academic advisor, a colleague, a boss, children, spouse, parents, ourselves — with what is left undone. And we need to learn to be okay with that. Ultimately only One Opinion matters. For me, panic and anxiety dissipate as I take time to wrestle in prayer over the kaleidoscope of expectations vying for my attention.

By God’s grace, I’m beginning to realize that this “unproductive” summer was a gift. After pushing hard at school for several years straight, I needed time to focus on home and family. Both our professional and personal lives are strengthened by occasional seasons away from the intensity of academic life. This rhythm is built in to the academic calendar. Let’s embrace it!

Part of our calling as humans is to engage with life — to love well, to eat well, to rest well, to bring order to our corner of the universe, and, in doing all these things, to worship our Creator with our whole selves. We bring God all of who we are, not just our C.V. And while he is honored by academic discipline and excellence, it matters every bit as much to him that we are faithful in other areas of our lives.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
— Colossians 3:17

By God’s grace, I expect to have other seasons (even summers!) where I’m productive academically. This summer was not one of them. In the meantime, may God be honored by homemade bread and clean dishes. And may he grant me the grace to enter the next season with courage — ready or not. 

About the Author

Carmen Joy Imes (PhD, Wheaton) is associate professor of Old Testament at Biola University. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, she is the author of Bearing YHWH's Name at Sinai, Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, Being God's Image: Why Creation Still Matters, and the editor of Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends.

Imes has written for a variety of websites, including Christianity Today, The Well, and the Politics of Scripture blog. She is a fellow of Every Voice, a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. Imes and her husband, Daniel, have followed God's call around the globe together for over 25 years.

Read Carmen's article on being God's image as a woman in the academy and the church.

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