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 is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biola University. Her husband Daniel gave up his job in mission finance to focus on their three kids and keep the household running smoothly so that Carmen can teach, speak, and write. Carmen and Daniel have been blazing new trails together since 1998, with twelve (er... make that thirteen!) address changes to prove it. They enjoy camping and playing pickleball as a family.

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