My thirteen-year-old daughter and I have different ideas about what it is that she will be doing with her summer vacation, which will be upon us in a few days. I think that the summer before she enters high school would be a good time to get a jump start on subjects she finds challenging. Also a good time to learn to type properly, or play the piano. Not to mention that there are a good number of household projects that could use some manual labor. I know that she will be bored with the vacant hours, and I have warned her repeatedly that her days will not be spent in front of the computer or TV screen.
And I keep asking her just what it is that she expects to do this summer. What is it that her days will look like when she is not off at camp or visiting an out of town friend? All I get for an answer is that she doesn’t know – and doesn’t want to be asked.
She doesn’t have a way to say it, but I think what she is looking towards is sabbatical time – a Sabbath of the school year where she can, to paraphrase Whitman, loaf and invite her soul. She wants to be free from pressure, free from schedule, free from things that have to be done and other people’s expectations that she do what other people think is good for her. That’s what the Sabbath is for. It is a time of forced openness, when you give up work and see what remains. Outside of the structure of daily life your soul gets a chance to stretch out.
OK, I confess I’m a little scared to see what remains for my young teen outside of her structured life. It’s hard to trust that her soul will be well served by weeks of openness. But there’s something to be said for being bored, for sitting with the emptiness long enough that something from deep inside might come to fill it. There’s not that much to be said for being the mom who has to listen to the whining that accompanies that boredom until that mysterious something comes along, but I guess that comes with the territory.
There isn’t any magic formula that decrees how much of our lives needs to be given to work, or to improving our selves and the world around us. But the tradition of the sabbath and the sabbatical teaches that a seventh of our time is not too much to give our souls the space to expand. I’ll let you know how it goes.