First Third Conversations

Caught in the Current - by Terri Elton

Flowing river 3 by Ernst Vikne, on Flickr

I don't know about you, but as a family with children in school, this time of the year I get caught in the current.

Our family tries hard to be intentional about how we spend our time, who we spend our time with and what commitments we take on all year long, but this time of year it never works.

The annual transition from summer to fall feels like someone else takes over the reins at our house for about six weeks:

  • Those dinners we were going to have together were eaten on the run.
  • That weekly date night was replaced with shuttling kids to football games and friend's houses.
  • The morning prayer routine became lunchbox central and that "Sabbath" time for God and family was filled with washing clothes and gearing up for another week's series of events.

By October, I wonder what happened and if anyone was able to resist the current that just swept me in.

Now, if I'm honest, church "activities" aren't any different than other activities when it comes to adding to the fray. Sunday school and confirmation, for example, get put on the calendar just like any other activity and come with their own expectations, fueling the scheduling current. On any given Wednesday, driving to and from church, my attitude is no different than any other activities. Facing another fall, I wonder what, if anything, is different about the church activities? And, as a person of faith that longs for meaningful interaction with a faith community, what would an alternative be?

Saturated with Grace

Anticipating another fall, and to feel the force of yet another current to pull me in, two thoughts surface. First, knowing that this fall transition is jarring, not gradual, and that it is going to take energy, is only part of the equation. I will still set goals and oversee the family calendar, but it is as important to saturate these days with grace. Each person, including myself, will navigate the waters of this transition differently before we find a new routine. Things will be missed, mistakes will be made, new insights gained and surprises surface.

Embrace this time

Some things will be the same, but other things will have changed, we will have changed. For just like crossing a river at the same point each spring, some aspects of the crossing stay the same, but other parts change, making crossing it new each time. Transition is no different. Each year offers new opportunities and challenges. Embrace this time ... and saturate it with grace.

Activities are not the point!

Second, activities are not the point, yet this time of year they get all the attention. A shift needs to happen. Ask questions! Why am I here? Who is along on this journey? What is my contribution?

For what if we, as God's people, used the places we were more fully? What if it wasn't just about blindly abiding to the schedule? What if we were called to be people fully present in the places we are? What if I offer a listening ear to another mother sitting along the sidelines, rather than make my grocery list? What if my car time with kids was the opportunity to share about our day? And what if my "activities" at church slowed me down and helped me see the people in my midst?

I need to shift my attention and I need help. Church, God's people, can you help me? Can you remind me what anchors my life? Can you help foster relationships and help me do the same? Can what happens when I'm gathered with God's people fill my tank, rather than keep me busy?

Crossing the stream

Just like crossing a spring stream after a winter of heavy snow, living the transition into fall can sweep individuals and families into the current of busyness and harried lives. God has called us to be stewards of our lives, and time, and as the church being attentive to such transitions and accompanying God's people, is more than helpful, it is proclaiming the gospel in word and deed.

For more on the stewardship of time, watch these videos featuring Dr. Roland Martinson:

Dr. Terri Martinson Elton serves as the director of the Center for First Third Ministry, and associate professor of Family Ministry, at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn.

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