I have a pet peeve. Well, actually and truthfully I have many pet peeves, but I am only going to write about one of them today. I reach a state of extreme peevishness when told (especially by a man) that I need to rest. For some reason male administrators think that the end of the school year is a good time to sit their about-to-implode-with-stress teachers down and tell them to “make sure to set aside time this summer to rest.” This has a strange impact upon my normally sedate and steady blood pressure. It makes me want to scream even though I know they mean well.
First of all, by the time early June rolls around I have been hanging on to sanity and decorum by my fingernails for about six weeks. End of the year programs, awards, graduation, traditions, exams, etc. have almost done me in emotionally and physically. In addition, I have exams to grade and this will finish off any reserve of mental power I might have had. My students have been lying on the beach or by the pool for several days and all I want to do is join them. Please believe me when I say that the desire for rest is there. I need to get stuff done more than I need to hear about resting. It’s a little like taunting a caged dog by throwing a tennis ball and telling him to fetch.
Secondly, by the end of the school year I owe everybody. I know people think that we teachers are “so lucky” because we “only work nine months out of the year.” (This is another pet peeve, but I promised to only write about one, so I mention it only in passing.) The idea that teachers only work nine months out of the year reveals a tremendous misunderstanding of what teaching involves. Teachers work enough hours during the school year to make up for the weeks we are out of school in June and July. The problem is that these hours come out of the rest of our lives, so when summer comes we have significant deficits. The school year keeps me so busy that I don’t have the time for my family that I would like. I use summer to develop relationships with my grandchildren, catch up with my kids, and travel to see my parents for more than just a long weekend. My husband teaches too, so summer time with him is double precious. My home also suffers during the school year. Summer is my time for re-organizing and cleaning out closets and cabinets, getting the so-called “spring” cleaning done, and maybe getting to the painting, repairs and decorating I’ve been wanting to do for months. (One of the first things I do almost every summer is to take down my Easter decorations. True story.) Summer is also a time to work on my health and fitness. If I want to change my diet or take my running up a notch, summer is the only time I have to work on that. Then there’s my professional life. Teaching doesn’t always leave room in the schedule to work on getting better. Reading that will help me hone a lesson or incorporate a new idea is best done during the summer. I have to take time to think through the year that was and plan for the year that will be. I need to think about what worked well and what did not. I must have time to brainstorm fixes and consider new classroom procedures. I study next year’s calendar and make up my syllabi. If I’m teaching a new class, summer is the time to study, plan, and structure.
Thirdly, I get upset because I have unreasonable expectations for the whole idea of “rest.” With the weight of the previous paragraph hanging over me in June, rest seems impossible. To this point in my life, the word rest has been synonymous in my mind with being finished. I hate having things hanging over my head. I feel completely relaxed only when my work is done. My idea of the perfect restful situation would be sitting by the pool with a cold iced tea while gazing at a summer to-do list that is totally and completely checked off. I have learned this summer that this is unreasonable and that life will go on anyway.
This summer has turned out anything but as planned. My husband spent five days in the hospital and I had to come home from China early. Sitting on the other side of the world, not being able to get home for several days while he was very sick was good for me. I had no control. All I could do was rest in Jesus, do the next thing, and enjoy the time I had left with my China family. Since I’ve been home I’ve had to tear up, cross out, and restructure as many to-do lists and schedules as I have made. I’m honestly not sure what I’m going to get done before I report back to work on August 15, but that’s okay. I’ve spent time with my family–it hasn’t been ideal or without stress or just the way I pictured it, but it’s been good. I even sat by the pool while my grandson swam. I did some re-organizing and purging of closets, etc. The house is not as clean yet as I would like, but I’ve made some progress. I ran on another continent, passed 600 days in my running streak, and met some endurance goals that I set for myself. I’ve also lost three pounds. I’ve read a bunch of books and I’m excited about some ideas I have for the new school year. As I toured the school where my son works in China I felt real joy welling up inside. I love education. The joy in teaching that was squashed flat in early June was starting to reassume its shape before the end of the month. Resting is not dependent on accomplishment. Rest is a gift that comes through faith and trust and even obedience. Rest is doing your best, taking a deep breath and leaving the results up to God. The news this summer has not exactly been restful. I’ve been tempted to despair; yet, even in the middle of feeling helpless and hopeless, God has spoken peace and rest to my soul. Rest isn’t about laying beside the pool with everything done. Rest is about walking through each task of life with Jesus.
“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”