A timely reflection from Lindsey Hepler.

With the solstice behind us and the 4th of July upon us, there is no denying that summer is in full swing. This means, among other things, that the question du jour is: “What are you up to this summer?” Whether you have big plans or not—whether you had the best time ever last weekend, or sat at home scrolling through your instagram feed — with so many people asking you about it and so many social media feeds telling you what everyone else is up to, its easy to hear a persistent message: You are doing summer wrong. 

On the one hand, there are the vacationers — those who are off on some grand international adventure, those whose families spend a week or more at the beach, or those who are bopping in and out of town, going here or there, “nothing big”, but traveling nonetheless. For anyone like me who is not traveling this summer, it’s hard not to feel “wrong.” Call it jealousy, call it FOMO, the message I hear is: you are doing summer wrong.

On the other hand, there are summer sabbaticals. I’m not sure when the tide turned, but its seems that in certain circles of the culture, we’ve done a complete 180, from complete avoidance of vacation (though this is still alive and well for many of us!), to full-on sabbaticals: no phone, no email, no work at all for a full week, month, or even more. There are milder versions of sabbaticals, more akin to the academic use of the word, where work still happens, but at a different pace, or in a different location than the norm. For those of us who are working regular hours this summer; for those like my sister whose work intensifies in the summer; for those who can’t afford to ever take a sabbatical, the “sabbativangelists” out there seem to be screaming: you are doing summer wrong.


And, while I don’t know from personal experience (yet), it seems that this sense of “doing summer wrong” only gets worse once kids are in the picture. So many options, so much room for judgment. And as KJ Dell’Antonia wrote in The New York Times recently, “Summer’s supposed freedom is expensive.” Just last week, my colleague was telling me how glad she was that her daughter chose to spend four weeks with her grandparents this summer—if she were to stay at home, it would cost $300 a week to send her to the day camp she likes best. The price tag for “doing summer right” is set high, insurmountably so for many families.

Now, I’m not arguing against summer camp. I’m not saying that travel is bad. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take a sabbatical. By all means, if you can do these things, do them! What I am trying to say is that these activities in and of themselves are not the point of summer. These activities are not the source of justification, not the source of freedom, not the necessary ticket to a “successful” summer—whatever that even means. There is no one way to do summer right, and there is no way to do summer wrong. (I say all of this not to condone anyone for the choices they have made about how to spend their own time, but rather to remind myself of this truth: there is no way to do summer wrong.)

The lectionary for this week included Galatians 5:1: “5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free.”

I find myself reflecting on what this means, in the context of summer.

Certainly, there is something about summer that makes the invitation to live freely more palpable. The days are longer, the evenings warmer. There is a sense of spaciousness, a sense of possibility. In my town, which runs on an academic schedule, there is less “noise” in the summer, less constant busy-ness, more space for me to make choices about how to spend my time.

But I am learning that the freedom of summer—of all seasons, really— is more nuanced than I think it is. I assume that a “summer of freedom” will look a certain way—weeks of vacation, days spent by the pool, time outdoors, plenty of watermelon and ice cream. But my summer will inevitably fail to live up to this law; I will, at some point, feel condemned by the sense that I am doing summer wrong.

I am learning that the freedom of which Paul speaks, the freedom we have through Jesus Christ, is much more subtle, more pervasive, more nuanced. It is not found on a beach or on a mountain (though those places can be powerful venues for it). It is not found by disconnecting from all devices for a period of time (though scientific studies are making more and more convincing arguments for doing this). I am learning how God’s grace extends a continual invitation to freedom, all day, every day, season after season, year after year.