Back to school is a balancing act for many families

2012-08-16T15:00:00Z 2012-08-22T16:44:08Z Back to school is a balancing act for many familiesRev. Christopher W. Keating stltoday.com
August 16, 2012 3:00 pm  • 

Hopping over my son’s pile of back to school supplies, I navigated past his gigantic new tennis shoes, then landed near his backpack, only to learn my sense of balance is not so keen.

And that was before I tried walking across a tight rope strung between two skyscrapers.

This occurred while trying out our family’s Wii Fit. We just got it – if by just you mean two Christmas’ ago. There’s no time like the present, so I thought it was time to give it a shot. After a few minutes of body testing, the first challenge was exploring a test of my balance. How hard could that be? When I failed, my son began to snort.

“Look, Dad,” he said. “It says you’re unbalanced!”

Like that was a surprise. This was the moment I decided it was time for him to head back to school.

Back to school offers the perfect opportunity to rebalance our lives. Leaving behind the relaxed pace of summer forces on the bumpy bus ride of homework, after school events, practices, lessons and more. Even if your household does not include children heading back to school, summer’s end is a reminder that life is changing. People are back from vacation. Calendars fill up quickly. It is time to think about how we will find our balance in the hubbub of life.

Families work hard at balancing the tightrope of schedules every day. During the school year, this means running the morning carpool, fortifying ourselves with caffeine and then plunging through the day. The afternoon schedule is equally demanding, draining us before we fall into bed. Sleep, and then repeat.

All of this has a way of erasing the mystery of grace in our lives. As a pastor, I have noticed a distressing pattern emerging in the lives of teenagers I know. While kids have always been worried about tests and school, I’m noticing that more and more, young teens are panicked about college admission tests well before they enter high school. Not just mildly anxious, but nearly distraught. Coupled with demanding sports schedules and other activities, they are convinced that the only life worth living is a perfect life.

No wonder local school districts have been struggling with increased heroin use.

Perhaps this back to school season is a good time to think about how we will maintain our spiritual balance in the months to come. On the Wii Fit, the balance test is a reminder of basic core muscle function. Improved balance means better posture and healthier living. Based on my initial results, I should wear bubble wrap and walk with twin canes.

But the next time I tried the exercise, my score improved.

I think that is a helpful insight, especially for those who do not know how or where to begin finding spiritual balance. I’d suggest beginning by reflecting on what it means to experience all of life as God’s gift. We are stewards of that gift, and how we value God reflects the priorities we make for our lives. Perhaps school activities can be kept within a manageable limit in order to make room for participating in church. (Don’t even get me started on Sunday morning sports practices!) Move next to increasing your commitment in the life of your faith community. Experiment with practices of graceful hospitality, or evening devotions, or sharing generously with those in need.

In summer, writes Parker Palmer, we feast on a “green and amber muchness that feeds us on more levels than we know.” Come fall, it is time to turn the abundance of summer’s harvest into actions that will hold us through the bitter cold of winter. Ready or not, here it comes.

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Rev. Christopher Keating

Chris Keating serves as pastor of the Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Wildwood, Mo. His wife, Carol, is also a Presbyterian minister. They are parents to three daughters, a son, and two theologically grounded dogs. He has degrees from the University of La Verne, Princeton Theological Seminary and Saint Paul School of Theology.

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