Today, I turned in grades for all my classes. The semester is, as far as my teaching responsibilities go, over.
It's an oddly quiet feeling. Like when I leave home after the holidays, I've gotten used to some hustle and bustle and having that suddenly vanish from my life leaves me at loose ends. According to Microsoft Word, this semester I've spent 115 hours planning lessons for writing and literature class (This doesn't include the time I've spent planning for Lewis or the Writing Seminar that I teach.) I've spent an additional 90 hours in the classroom during the semester, and I've spent far more hours than I care to remember grading. And now it's all finished.
Tonight I will go home, and there will be nothing to grade, nothing to plan for, nothing to correct for the next day. I could watch a full-length movie, not just a 50-minute TV show (I'm still working through Stargate and Battlestar Galactia, alternately.) I could read a book all evening. I could surf the Internet for three hours and not feel guilty (Okay, I probably would feel guilty about that.).
In a way, I have that feeling when you leave on vacation and there's something you forget. Surely there's one more paper waiting for me to grade? One more student to email?
But there's not. It's very unsettling.
I once heard (from whom, I cannot remember) that one way to trust God was to sleep. When we sleep, we put aside our own troubles and worries long enough to rest, and because we put them aside, we acknowledge that our own efforts are, in the end, not enough. For a little while, we leave our efforts in God's hands, and when we pick them back up again in the morning, it is only because God has and will continue to sustain us.
The interesting part about this observation is that sleep is forced, and therefore to some degree, our dependence on God is also forced. Yes, I know that sleep can be put off, sometimes for several days (I work with college students, and so people putting off sleep is a fact of daily experience.) Eventually, however, the body rebels; everyone sleeps.
I also know Tertullian's argument: Because true faith must be chosen, not forced, it follows that the trust in God as a way of practicing that faith must also be chosen, not forced. Yet C.S. Lewis believed that the world was so made that we, by the fact of existing in it, would be drawn to God: We could resist, but it is easier not to. We could refuse to trust God, we could keep matters gathered in our own hands, but it is easier just to leave them in God's and go to bed.
In many ways, the end of the school year's work load brings me to much the same place as the end of the day does, with the need to (however briefly) surrender what I think I control and trust God.
Partly, this is because I do have outstanding responsibilities; I am simply choosing not to do them today. Today, there is no need to rush through some personal financial tasks. There is no need to figure out what books I need to read for a professional development event towards the end of June, nor is there a need to purchase them on Amazon today. There is no need to deep clean my office today. There is no need to deep clean my house today (Mom, I'm glad you aren't visiting me this spring.) All that will come, but since I finished my grading, it's good to take a break.
Partly, this is because I have a forced gap before I can do substantial teaching work again. Already I have several ways that I would like to change my writing class, but it won't start again for three months. Already I have some plans for the tutoring center, but that won't kick off for three months, either. I have made mistakes and learned from them and I want to put what I have learned into practice, but I have to wait, just as certainly as I have to wait when it's late in the evening and I still have a six-inch stack of papers to grade but can't (The later at night, the meaner I grade.)
Just like sleep forces us to trust God, my schedule has brought me to the place where I have a sharper need than usual to lay my work aside, even if it's just for a few hours, and leave things in God's hands. Tomorrow I'll take my responsibilities back, and I'll probably even worry about them again. For tonight, though, they can stay there.
As I near the end of this post, it occurs to me that this one sounds rather more navel-gazing than normal for me, as though I jumped on my blog and shout, "Let me tell you all about ME!" I could, I suppose, make a more personal application to you: Do this. Don't do that. Take a rest. Stop working.
I could do that.
But I won't, because I think it's contradictory to end a post about rest with a specific command to do something (even if that something is more resting.)
No, the point of this post is an observation, not a command: Into our world are built forced pauses, times that we have to let go of our responsibilities and leave them in God's hands. This is a truth both terrifying and restful.
Perhaps thankfully, most pauses are fairly short. Mine won't last more than about twelve hours. Eventually, our human love of feeling in control and active gets to reassert itself. Yet the fact remains that God whispers to us in the rhythms of life, reminding us that as we work, He works too, that sometimes He works most of all when we don't.
George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis' inspiration, once wrote that Every day begins with sleep. It's an unusual saying, since most of us tend to think that the day ends with sleep and begins with the blaring of an alarm clock. Perhaps, however, if to sleep is to trust God, then to say the day begins with sleep is simply to say that all our efforts are, in the beginning, God's work. Whatever we accomplish in the course of the day, the foundation was laid by God. Ultimately, this is what the pauses in life remind us of: that even when we stop working, God is still there, at the beginning and end of all things.