I’m drawn to the changing of the seasons, the time of the year when everything is on the cusp and the old world starts dying and the new world starts coming on . ( Each new day does this too, but the rising sun doesn’t bring out the poetry in me. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to liturgical holidays— this neat and tidy slicing up of seasons, tied to the calendar but not the clock.
It’s a reminder that mercy is new, always.)
And I like the changing of the seasons for the nudge to pause and breathe. It’s a time to take stock of whether or not frenetic busyness has creeped in, unnoticed, encroaching on our calm and peaceful margins. Margin is important to me. Margin is vital. I cannot thrive without margin.
In the 1990s, Dr. Richard Swenson wrote about this in his book “The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits“, saying, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore?”
The changing of the seasons, for me, means a reminder to cultivate those still waters in my own home. I have good intentions, of course, but they are prone to slip, and the seasons give me pause to reconsider whether I am still being intentional about my goals of rest.
Rest doesn’t happen on its own. We must fight for rest.
There’s no escaping it this time of year in Eastern Europe and in the American North. The leaves surge with one last burst of chlorophyll, summer’s flowers tuck their heads, and heirloom rugs are rolled up and beaten outside, clearing the stage for fall, scouring the home for winter, and steeling one’s heart against the coming wintry blast. All of nature is preparing for the quieter, slower season.
There’s no such meteorological shift in the climate, here. I’ve never seen anyone take a rug out of the front door to clean it. But the days are lengthening, even if the air plants still cling to the palm trunks, and the egrets never stop sifting through the marshes for brunch. But I don’t need an obvious equinox outdoors to prepare my home and heart for the autumnal shift, setting out pumpkins on the stoop, simmering ginger and spice on the stove, singing along to my favorite music, and pressing vinyl cling leaves up against the window panes.
This takes time and intention — and more often than not, it takes saying no to things, even good things. You might feel silly saying “no” to that extra event, that meet-up, that task you’re not even obligated to do for the committee. You might feel self-conscious regularly scheduling in an entire day (or a week!) to breath in the scent of the autumn blend wafting out of the diffuser, stash away the clutter and close the laundry closet doors, pick up the toys off the floor and switch out the bathroom hand soaps. After all, tomorrow, the laundry doors will be open again, the LEGOs will be strewn — but you know what else? Tomorrow, the leaves on the window panes will catch your eye and the lingering aroma of clove and cinnamon will still flutter in and out of the curtains. And there’s a certain transforming power this has on the heart. Somehow, I find that when the house is clean, when corners of the home hint at the changing season, I feel more calm and purposeful.
I suppose this is a way of presenting a visible reminder of worship before my eyes. And in the autumn especially, when all of creation is storing and stockpiling and preparing to slow for hibernation, this visible reminder of worship pulls me into the present, and slows me. It’s easier to sit down and drink in the Word, when the clutter isn’t pulling my attention away. It’s easier to help my daughter navigate that non-stop brain of hers, when I’m not stressed over the neglected housework.
No, I’m not perfect. I haven’t learned this art yet. My home is not a spotless showcase. I know a slower rhythm doesn’t solve the pressing problems of the world. This doesn’t instantly heal what hurts. We are real, and real people are messy people. But real people can also be purposeful people, fighting for what matters.
Preparing our homes and hearts for the season sets the stage for contentment, and for cultivating margin. That makes a big, big difference.
You see, it is difficult to pursue purpose without margin.
It is difficult to even complete tasks effectively — to say nothing of cheerfully or contentedly — without margin.
Dr. Swenson told the story of how at one point before his epiphany of rest, he was so overwhelmed, overloaded, over-scheduled and burnt out as a physician that he actually deeply resented his patients for being sick. I find in my own life, that in times of marginless frenzy, I resent my tasks as a wife, mother, and full-time educator (that last one takes up every waking hour — can you relate?)
But I refuse to glorify “busyness”. I refuse to put “busyness” on a pedestal. I’d much rather fight for margin and rest, wouldn’t you?
It’s not a popular choice. Possibly, fighting for rest for your family might put you in uncomfortable situations. It might make you unpopular for a time. But it will also make you peace-filled.
Swenson writes of contentedness: “It has so little cultural traction that I don’t even hear it in casual conversation, let alone preached or praised. The word contented has been replaced by driven, aggressive, hungry, ruthless, relentless.
Taking a deeper look, however, we notice that contentment has been a principle in good standing throughout history, endorsed by philosophers, statesmen, men of letters and theologians of all religions. Even if times were marked by destitution, tragedy and pestilence; even if gutters were filled with beggars, doorways filled with prostitutes and people beat each other with chickens; still, contentment was lifted high. Thought leaders endorsed contentment as a source of hidden comfort and riches, treasured within a human heart despite circumstances.
It is only recently that contentment has fallen out of favor. With the escalating totalitarianism of progress and economics, something had to give, so contentment was replaced by unbridled ambition. No one stopped to have a memorial service nor slowed to light a candle.” 
This autumn, won’t you join me in making margin and rest your ambition? Let’s slow down together, and purpose to let our hearts rest in contentedness, no matter the storm outside.
I’ll light a candle or three to that.