“How was your summer?” Chances are you’ve heard those four words about three hundred times since you got back to campus. When asked by a certain close friend, mentor, or beloved professor, this question inspires delight and is a joy to answer. You might have even saved up anecdotes or difficult experiences to process with this person in expectation of this encounter. But, if someone you don’t know very well abruptly inquires about what you did, where you went, or “just how it all was,” you might freeze, unprepared and drawing a blank. What did I do?
And so you’ll babble lightly about Netflixing and sleeping and going to the beach and walk away frustrated and slightly mortified, forming a more sophisticated answer for next time.
I’ve gone through this scenario multiple times myself in the three weeks since I got back to school. It’s jarring and disorienting. Why is it so difficult to communicate what happened less than a month ago?
Many students experienced so much during their summer that condensing their experience feels overwhelming. Jon-Michael Shelley (‘19) reflects, “Honestly, I already knew I would have trouble with the passive ‘How was your summer?’ question before I got back to school. Despite knowing how it would feel much beforehand, I still struggle to answer it. It’s easier with people who knew that I was on the Yakama Reservation. I tell them, ‘Hard. But good.’ It’s the truth. And it’s also an invitation to know more if they want to know more.” As Jon-Michael implies, there is strain and frustration in paring down three months’ worth of memories into a few sentences.
Alyssa Davila (‘19) spent last summer church planting in Thailand. For her, there’s a sense of defeat in the repetition: “I would hear that question so many times, I would almost not even want to answer anymore, because I got tired of saying the same thing over and over.”
For me, the difficulty is how dreamlike and distant summer feels. For six weeks during June and July, I taught English in Hong Kong, then traveled to Cambodia to observe university classes. The experience was transformative, wonderful, and challenging, but as soon as I landed in the States on August 1, my brain snapped back into school mode. Almost instantly mental images of neon-lit night markets, steaming dumplings,and skyscrapers against green islands began to fade like a Polaroid developing in reverse.
Maybe that’s your story, too.
In the book of Deuteronomy, God persistently encourages his people to look back and reflect on how He had cared for them in the past. Moses commands the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:9, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life”
Our problem isn’t being too busy, loving life at Covenant too much, or being too apathetic to remember our summer experiences. It’s actually two-fold; we’re finite and we’re forgetful, all-too-human failings. Our tendency to move on from seasons without processing them is hurting our ability to express what we saw, did, created, felt, learned. Reflecting upon and recording the good, the hard, and the everyday sweetness of being a Christ-follower should be an integral part of our spiritual lives.
Whether you’re a freshman caught up in the excitement of college life or a seasoned upperclassman already looking up the date of graduation in the academic calendar, take several moments to remember how you saw the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord during the summer. The Father never dismisses our experiences and never needs an invitation to listen. How did He continue the good work he began in you? Where did you see His hand guiding you and defending you?
In the next few weeks, consider creating an Ebenezer, or “stone of help.” This word comes from a passage in 1 Samuel 7:12, in which Samuel sets up a stone to remember Yahweh’s past provision. Use a page in your journal or a note on your phone (or an actual rock, if that’s your thing!) and record the big and small ways you see God’s tangible love flowing over your days. Return to this “stone” in the coming months and find your trust in Jesus renewed.