On a deliciously warm summer afternoon in the middle of August, I greeted my neighbour who is a teacher. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then I began to ask him about the coming school year. “Don’t even start down that direction,” he warned, holding up his hand palm-out, like a nonverbal stop sign. We returned to the more pleasant topics of bike rides, barbecues and beaches, pushing the taboo subject of September to the horizon, where it pulsed slightly like a small yet portentous thunder cloud.
September bounces us back into the routine, a yearly start-up that can be a stimulating return to routine or a jarring jolt. Whether we plan ahead with a mixture of foresight and anxiety, or cling to denial as long as we can, September will come, with its demands and opportunities as surely as harvest follows seeding. This is especially true for those connected to schools, colleges and universities—teachers and professors, support staff and of course, students and their family members.
Church workers also find themselves swinging into higher gear as the lighter services of summer give way to more complex structure and program. (A few years ago, I met a colleague for lunch in September, a man with some 20 years of pastoral experience. He opened our conversation by wailing about his crazy work load. “I’m an organized person!” he exclaimed. “And every September I hit this same wall, with church stuff being way out of control.” Given my own September craziness, I found his remarks to be comforting.)
Some of us approach September eagerly, brimming in hopeful anticipation of what lies ahead. Others of us settle into the traces wearily, like a seasoned work horse shouldering its yoke knowing well the weight of its burden. Some of us love routine and welcome its stabilizing structure. Others function better in open-ended time frames and chafe under the regime of a daily schedule that stretches months into the future.
Still, the wisdom of the Bible tells us that there are times and seasons, and that every time, including September, has its purpose under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) As we enter September, let’s first of all offer up prayers for those most affected by fall routines. Let’s remember to encourage and affirm teachers and students, pastors and Christian Education directors. If we’re in a supportive role, let’s take steps to walk alongside of our student, teacher or church worker. One woman sends her teacher husband out the door each morning for two weeks with a lovingly packed lunch, to ease him into the intensity of school start-up.
When my son was young, he struggled each September with the change in routine and demands. After a few years, I learned to keep my schedule and our home life relaxed and calm for those first weeks, offering him an oasis of peace to balance the school pressures.
Finally, in whatever role we find ourselves this September, let’s also carry slivers of summer space with us into autumn, sliding it into the pockets of our days and nights like a sun-warmed stone picked up on a favourite beach. Slivers like an afternoon bike ride on a nature path; revelling in the last juicy vine-ripened tomato; a supper that becomes a picnic; gazing in wonder at starry skies. Again, the Bible wisely advises, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)
Melissa Miller lives in Winnipeg where she works as a pastor and counsellor. Her family ties include that of daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend.