I began this summer with very few plans, just 6 weeks or thereabouts stretched ahead of me to fill and enjoy and make the most of. As the weeks have gone on, I have learnt a lot about myself and life.
Past summers have been spent doing all kinds of wonderful things: climbing mountains, learning to surf, doing charity work, lying on Mediterranean beaches, exploring other countries, falling in love, getting married – to name just a few. Other people I know have had a similarly exciting season this year: my sister had her 21st birthday and got engaged; my brother trekked in Sweden and has been working in the Cairngorms; one of my friends got married; another is having a baby. It is all too easy to compare what I’m doing and feeling with some of these experiences.
It makes sense, then, that one of the biggest lessons I am learning this summer is about contentment. Paul (the apostle) talks of contentment as a secret to be learned, and I think this hints at the deliciousness of it. Yet, it is really, really hard to grasp. Just when you think you’ve got it, those thoughts come creeping in: I wish I could go abroad like so-and-so. I wish I could finish this project on the house. I wish I could afford to buy this. I wish, I wish, I wish. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having dreams and desires, but it’s this low-level dissatisfaction with life that can make us miss some of our best times.
One of the biggest areas of dissatisfaction for me this summer has been my own limitations. I am preparing for a new job, so have a lot that I want to get done, but each task has taken me longer than I expected and sometimes it has been an uphill struggle. I got some kind of cold that lasted a few weeks and in the end I just had to give in to it and rest, punctuating simple household chores with Friends DVD’s and books so that I could get better and stronger. At first, it felt frustrating, but I quickly became thankful for this time to just take care of myself. I was able to build in yoga, walking and swimming, which were great for my body and my mind.
The One Thing Philosophy
A combination of a lack of energy and a small budget has meant that this summer has been all about accepting that I can’t do it all. I started a ‘1 Thing’ strategy to help me to appreciate this time more and make the most of it. It works like this: I had in mind a whole range of things I would like to do this summer, but I knew I couldn’t fit them all in. So, each day, I have my ‘one thing’ that I would like to do that day, whether it is to complete something for work, do a yoga tutorial, go to the beach etc. At the end of the day, even if I have accomplished or experienced little else, I am really glad to have done that one thing. I have a ‘one thing’ for each week, too, which may be a bigger activity. This has given me both focus and appreciation.
There is something that has been a given, though, ahead of my ‘one thing’ activities. Every day (or almost every day!), I have made time for an extended ‘quiet time’ when I can read my Bible and pray. Christians talk about having intimacy with God and this is what I am seeking – because my relationship with God is what truly fills and satisfies my soul. In fact, it is the secret to contentment that Paul was writing about. God cannot be taken away from me whether I am rich or poor, busy or bored, and his grace is more than enough to fill my heart with wonder, peace and motivation.
The Anti Bucket List
As much as I love browsing Pinterest for summer bucket list ideas, I began to realise that an anti bucket list – which details all the things I have done this summer – is also a great plan. When you look back over what you’ve been able to do and be part of, you immediately well up with gratitude. That nagging dissatisfaction is dispelled. Here are a few of the things on mine:
*Driven a tractor
*Learnt to mow the lawn
*Swum in the sea
*Watched the sunset
*Sat around the fire in the evening
There are so many more on the list, but these give a flavour of the beautiful summer I have had. I have not left my home county at all so far, but I have learnt new skills, enjoyed the great outdoors and spent plenty of time with my friends and family. My summer has not been full of big events, but it has been a treasure trove of the small things. I am so grateful that I get to have this life.
And, of course, this is a blog post by me, so you can only expect that I’ll harp on about gratitude at some point! As part of my quiet times, I’ve been using the One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp, at the back of which there is space to list your own one thousand gifts, so this is what I’ve been doing. My 225 entries so far have ranged from ‘toast’ to ‘summer rain turning woods into rainforest’ to ‘unexpected, unhurried coffee’ to ‘a full house’. Gratitude is truly the best weapon against dissatisfaction.
There are the odd times when gratitude only gets you so far. Andrew and I were unable to get to any of the locations for the Supercar Driving Experience I got him for Christmas, so we swapped it for a three course meal more locally. Disaster! The set menu was dire, and we were missing out on a BBQ with friends to go to it, plus the fact that we’d exchanged a Driving Experience to be there! I appreciate that this is an entirely first world problem, but there really was very little to redeem the evening, especially when the dessert options included Banoffee Tiramisu. I mean, really, who puts banana in a tiramisu?! Afterwards, we found our car had been egged for some inexplicable reason. It was an evening when the only thing I was genuinely grateful for was that we were able to laugh about it together.
How has your summer been?