By Ann Boyd

How to Plan Your Summer for Growth

We're standing on the cusp of summer. In Chicago, we aren't quite there yet — vacation schedules haven't fully begun, local pools are still closed, and the strawberries continue to be tinged with green. But as my school-year responsibilities draw to a close, I find myself looking ahead. What might God have for me this summer?

I love this time before summer has begun. It is a liminal space for me — a moment of transition that feels holy and pregnant with potential. I'm rich with time, space, and possibility.

Over the past few months, I've been collecting ideas about how to spend my summer. My list includes picnics near bodies of water, outdoor Shakespeare theater, plenty of grilled meats, and the long-needed tidying of a home filled with piles of books and papers.

I've been waiting to work on a few other things, too. While re-reading Greg McKeown's Essentialism, I've been hastily taking notes and saying to myself, "I'll spend time thinking through this in the summer." I'm conscious of the need to do some serious reflection on habits and goals that will help me to thrive. And now that we are entering summer, I’m watching for opportunities to attend to those thoughts, emotions, and tasks that need unstructured time.

It occurs to me that I'm not the only one who needs to think through ways to order my summer — not just in a list of "Things to Do," but with an eye for restoration, healing, and preparation for the next season. In light of this, let me offer thoughts on four broad areas of life that I'm considering this June as I create space for growth in my summer.

Looking Back.

Think back on the past six to nine months. During the academic year, life can hurtle past at such a breakneck pace that we don't have time to fully absorb experiences as they come, but there is time now to reflect and consider intense moments with care. Don’t rush — take a few days to think through these questions, if you’d like.

  • What positive, joyful moments can you remember from this year?
  • What painful, embarrassing, or grievous moments can you remember from this year?
  • Consider jotting down a few notes about these memorable events. As emotions arise, present them to the Lord. He may have an invitation for you through them, or you might like to just hold them before him.
  • Do you recall any helpful actions, patterns, or habits that you built into your life this year? Make note of those — and good job, you!
  • Do you recall any unhelpful or destructive actions, patterns, or habits that arose in your life this year? Pause with these and ask the Lord what next step he might have for you in those.

Listening to the Present.

The different pace of summer brings with it an opportunity to pay attention carefully — to our senses, our relationships, and our spirits. Engaging fully in the present moment will help us to connect with ourselves, others, and God. Look for some ways to deepen your experience of presence.

  • What is it that will help you to soak up the summer most fully? There's a great variety to be chosen from, but let me list a few possibilities:
    • food (smoky burgers, cold ice cream, juicy watermelon)
    • activities (swimming, hiking, biking)
    • recreation (gardening, theater, camping)
    • work (writing, thinking, reading)
    • rest (naps, hammocks, sunbathing)
  • Who are the people around you to whom you'd most like to pay attention? Perhaps God might be inviting you to take special care with your closest relationships, to deepen some casual acquaintances, or to stretch yourself in a friendship with someone different from you.
  • Consider ways to fully engage with your community, your friends, and your family. Look into their eyes. Listen without thinking about your next response. Read a book aloud together. Tell stories near a bonfire. Picnic near a river and play Poohsticks.
  • Consider how you can live in your body better. As academics, it is easy to focus on the work of the mind and ignore our bodies. The Lord may be inviting you to enjoy preparing fresh foods, or experiment with moving your body in a new way. (For me, it is scheduling the physical therapy appointment I’ve been putting off.)

Thinking Ahead.

When I was a child, I used to feel an inexplicable sadness every Sunday night, which I called "The Sunday Feeling." Upon adult reflection, I could see that this was almost always due to the fact that my Sunday evenings must be devoted to the mound of homework I had been avoiding all weekend. As an adult, I've learned that I can avoid The Sunday Feeling by spending even just a little time planning ahead. What can be done for Sunday night, we can also do for August 31.

  • What is it that you would like to have thought of or prepared for before school resumes? Whatever you do will feel like a gift to your future self. Aim to finish one thing by the end of June that you can then put aside for the rest of the summer.
  • If you're feeling whimsical, make a small time capsule package with personalized advice, a fresh notebook, and a bar of chocolate. Store it in a cool place and open it in late August or early September.
  • Many of us (myself included) will have work that does not stop over the summer. As much as you are able, sketch out your summer plans in a way that will allow for some focused work and some satisfying rest. Get out your calendar and write those plans down to lend weight to your decisions.

Digging Deep.

The less-structured space of summer is the perfect time to do some true soul-searching. We all need to take time periodically to examine our lives deeply. Build some space in for this kind of thinking and wondering.

  • Consider taking a retreat to examine your life. You might enjoy one of the Faculty Conferences being held this summer. You may wish to set aside a few hours in a coffee shop or a few days at a retreat center.
  • Journal through some probing questions, read a book with spiritual depth, or just sit and breathe. If you aren't sure where to start, ask a trusted mentor — or, golly, contact us at The Well and we'll try to point you in the right direction.
  • If you run into some emotional or spiritual barriers, remember that there are resources. Talk it over with a spiritually mature friend or pastor. Consider the possibility of meeting with a therapist or a spiritual director.

If you're like me, there is some comfort in creating a loose structure to the summer, praying for growth and healing, and submitting it to the Lord for his purposes. But the truth of the matter is that God is good, and he will guide you through your summer no matter what. May the Lord bless you and sustain you through this season and onward to whatever the end of summer holds.

About the Author

Ann is the Women Scholars and Professionals Podcast host and the interim editor for The Well. She has worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1997, exploring her interests in community, spiritual formation, and writing. Ann has a BM in Music Education from Northwestern University and lives in Chicago, Illinois with one husband, two spunky teenage daughters, and three snuggly cats. You’ll often find Ann baking sweet treats in the kitchen while listening to a podcast or audiobook.

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