When we were kids, life was simpler.
We lived out a safe, predictable and beautiful life-rhythm: get through all the school parts of the year in order to experience the best parts—the holidays. We put up with the end of summer and “back to school” simply to get to Christmas, and then we did our best to endure the spring term while we waited for summer to arrive. The changing of those seasons of childhood defined, with exactness and simplicity, our understanding of time.Those were the days; kindergarten through college broken down into easy-to-understand calendar segments. And although the details from my years of school are mostly an autobiographical blur, the holidays (from the same years) play back quite clearly in my mind. I can taste and see and feel those best seasons in my memory.
Growing up, Christmas was always the single greatest day of the year. But, as you well know, it wasn’t just one day. For my brothers and I, Christmas was like a big, beautiful pot of mulled apple cider that started brewing in October and grew into a full-fledged fog of cinnamon, citrus and excitement by December—boiling over on Christmas morning and spilling out memories well into the new year. Each year we drank up Christmas greedily until we almost burst with too many toys and too many sweets and too many consecutive days trapped indoors with one another. Christmas was (and still is) very much about all the good things that happen inside the house—the baked goodies, storytelling around a roaring fire, endless games of cards and watching football with my dad. All of my childhood Christmases were lit with the glow of colored light and laughter and the magic of a happy home.
And then there was summer. … Summer was something entirely different. Summer was a long, slow drink of cool water for our young souls! Summer quenched our weary selves after a long year shackled to lined notebooks and combed hair and shod feet. Summer was part liberation fighter and part Pied Piper; saving us from the oppressors of academia and leading us out into long days spent in swimming pools and treehouses and sandlot ball diamonds. Summer was always too slow in coming and too quick to leave again—we did our best to soak it up completely, but we, somehow, never quite got our fill. The highlight of summer in our family was always camp—it was the one time each year where us kids struck out on their own into the wild. Summer camp was rough, dusty and, best of all, completely absent of girls. At camp we learned how to row and shoot and fight fair and make fire without matches. We met kids from strange places like Michigan and Wichita. We played pranks on each other and felt no shame in dancing around the campfire. At camp we dressed up like Native Americans and, when moments of truth came, we did our very best to dress ourselves in bravery. Camp was unlike home and school, but it was a kind of family and there, for three weeks in the woods, we were sure we learned more than we ever could in 10 years at a school. We did most of our real growing up at summer camp, and we always went back to school a little taller than the year before.
And that was our rhythm then—school, Christmas, school, summer—for all those years of growing up and, to some extent, through high school and college as well. But something happened along the way; the rhythm changed and life fell out of balance. Here I am, 31 years old and life doesn’t have clear-cut seasonal changes. There are no longer four distinctive parts; summers come and go without a 12-week break. Christmas is a weekend away from the office instead of a three-week-long “lock in” sponsored by Mountain Dew and Super Nintendo. So, what happened?
I grew up. That’s what happened.
A New Rhythm
When you become an adult, your rhythm changes forever. Most jobs don’t “let out” for three months in the summer or shut down for three weeks at Christmas. And unless you are a teacher or a seasonal-type worker, you probably work a steady number of hours each month, minus a few vacation days here and there. That’s the reality for most adults: Weekends are the new vacations.
It took me a while to settle into this new “adult” rhythm. I snarled, grumbled and fought against it because it challenges me so much. This pattern of going to work every single Monday through Friday, week after week, with no specific change of course in the foreseeable future really challenges me. It challenges my sense of entitlement, it challenges my fears of commitment and it forces me to exist exactly where I am without constantly entertaining the idea “what if I just picked up and moved off to (fill in the blank).” In short, this thing called "adulthood" that I accidentally stumbled into is teaching me faithfulness.
What I am realizing about the old rhythm, that happy to-and-fro between seasons of high structure and seasons of extended freedom, is that it didn’t help me grow in my understanding of long-term promise-making or promise-keeping. It’s well known that many in our generation suffer from “extended” or “perpetual” adolescence and, although I’ve always had steady jobs since even before I graduated college, I can feel that. … I still feel the tug of youthful desires pulling at me at times. But that doesn’t mean I’m going back.
Because despite the inner voice that sometimes shouts, “Go run free and unencumbered from the responsibilities of manhood,” there is another, more trustworthy voice speaking with authority saying: “Keep moving forward—there are lessons here; this is a path that will help establish you as a faithful man, a faithful servant, a faithful husband and father. When you were a child, you understood as a child. Now you are a man, and you have to put away childish things.”
It seems obvious, but I haven’t really stopped to consider it until now: When we were children, our rhythm revolved around us being told what to do. We didn’t have a lot of choices. We were fragile and fluctuating. We were takers only, and our seasonally stepped calendar was a tool to help us develop an understanding of and the ability to contribute to the world around us. But as we move into adulthood, we become leaders. We become givers. We give our lives to our work and family, we give our taxes to our state and country, we give our expertise to our community, and we are able to serve our parents, friends and neighbors in ways we never could have as children.
As I watch summer melt quietly into fall, I am reminded that our God is the God of all seasons: summer and winter, spring and autumn. He is the Lord of our golden childhoods, as well as our mysterious growing up.
Austin Sailsbury lives, writes, and works in Copenhagen, Denmark. You can follow him on twitter @austinsails and at his blog Wayfarers All.