You are what you schedule
Imagine today is January 2nd, and a friend bumps into you in the produce aisle of the local grocery store. After picking up the groceries that fell out of your hand you make eye contact and say “Happy New Year” followed by an awkward smile. Your “Happy New Year” is interpreted appropriately by your friend as “Seeing as we are only two days into the new year according to the Gregorian Calendar, I wish you well in the 364 days ahead of us.”
So far no surprises.
Now imagine that it is August 12th, and you have just returned to school as a teacher. You are greeted by a parent of one of your students as you are walking out of an orientation meeting. After asking about your summer, and waiting the appropriate amount of time to show just the right level of interest in your answer, they look you in the eye and say “Blessings on your new year.” You and this parent both interpret the words “Blessings on your new year” to mean “I wish you well in the school year ahead of us, which begins tomorrow and ends in the middle of May.” Neither of you assume that the words “Blessings on your New Year” shared in August refer to the Gregorian New Year celebrated on January 1st. It is clear that the School Calendar, and not the Gregorian Calendar, are in mind here.
For a final time, imagine with me that it is the end of a particularly disappointing season for your favorite sports team. Slowly making your way out of the stadium, a face-painted stranger bumps into you and says, “there’s always next year.”
Nobody interprets this to mean that as soon as 2017 becomes 2018 your team will be granted immediate success. We know that, in this case, next year simply means next season, whether that season begins in the current Gregorian year or not.
As my grandfather would say, “I hope you are sniffing what I am stepping in.”
It turns out that when we say “Happy New Year” we may actually be referring to a wide range of calendars, each with their own “new year” celebrations. Whether we do so intentionally or not, we all follow a variety of calendars, whether they are national, cultural, personal, lunar, solar, marital, or recreational in nature.
This is the first premise of this chapter: We already follow a variety of calendars.
So far this is merely an observation of the way things are. What comes next begins to reveal why it matters that we pay close attention to the calendars we follow.
You Are What You Schedule
Every Spring I conduct an experiment with a group of students. I did this once with a group of teachers and, to many of the students’s surprise, the results were nearly identical.
I ask the students to respond to what I am about to say with a simple facial reaction. They are to smile if their response to my words is generally positive, and frown if their response to them is generally negative.
Then I ask them to give me a blank facial expression before I utter those words every student longs to hear: “Summer break.”
As you can imagine, the room was full of smiles.
Everyone in the room, whether teacher or student, has spent a good amount of their life following the school calendar. By following this calendar year and year, they have actually learned to love summer.
To an accountant, or an engineer, or a doctor, “summer” is simply the time of year that you go to work when it is hot outside. To those of us in the world of education—even for those of us who work through the summer—there is a sense of freedom, flexibility, and bliss when summer arrives.
The School Calendar has taught us what to love.
We have already agreed that we follow a variety of calendars. But there is more at stake here. Calendars actually have the power to shape what we love, to influence our desires. Whether we are paying attention to them or not, the various calendars we follow are shaping our desires.
This should be at least a little alarming to us. Our affections—what we love and what those loves drive us to do—make up the very core of who we are.
If what I am saying is even remotely true, then our affections are shaped in part by the calendars we follow. And some of the calendars we follow are shaping our affections for things that are not worthy of our affections. This should worry us a bit.
God of the Calendar
But here is the beauty of thinking about things like this as Christians: we worship a God that knows that our affections can be shaped by our calendars. And if we read the Bible carefully, it appears that we worship a God that actually designed our affections to be shaped by our calendars.
Think about some of the great events of the Old Testament: Creation, The Exodus, the Institution of the Sacrificial System, just to name a few.
These events are so important to God’s people—they play such a significant role in the history of salvation—that God does not leave it to chance that his people remember them properly. He does not simply hope that during their spontaneous quiet time His people might happen to stumble upon descriptions of these stories in their Bible reading and then seek to apply them to their lives.
Think back to the Old Testament. What does God do?
God instructs his people to follow a calendar—year after year—that forces them to participate in remembering these events by re-enacting them as a community.
Creation and God’s Sovereignty is a really big deal. So every Saturday God instructed His people to rest from their labor in recognition of the reality that God is in charge of the universe, and they are not. Creation and God’s Sovereignty matter, so the Sabbath was placed on the Calendar.
The Exodus and Freedom from Slavery is a really big deal. So every year God instructed His people to celebrate the Passover by re-enacting the meal and remembering God’s salvation from slavery in Egypt. The Exodus matters, so The Passover was placed on the Calendar.
The Sacrificial system and the forgiveness of sin is a really big deal. So while repentance for sin was to be done continually, once a year God instructed His people to celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Forgiveness of sin matters, so the Day of Atonement was placed on the Calendar.
When things really mattered, they were placed on Israel’s Calendar.
The Church Calendar
The goal of the Church Calendar is to shape our affections for the One most worthy of our affections: Jesus. How so?
Each year, if we follow the Church Calendar, we re-live the life of Jesus.
The Church Year begins with the anticipation of His birth (The First Sunday of Advent) and ends with a celebration of His current reign at the right hand of the Father (Christ the King Sunday). Along the way we commemorate his revelation to the Gentiles (Epiphany), His temptation in the Wilderness (Lent), His arrest, trial, and crucifixion (Holy Week), and His resurrection and ascension (Easter). These Holy Days — which is where we get the word holidays — form the foundation of the Church Calendar.
The preparation for and the celebration stemming from these Holy Days leads to a few major Holy Seasons. Sprinkled throughout the major Holy Days are several smaller commemorations that each help us keep the Good News of God in Christ at the center of our lives throughout the entire year.
Can the practice of following the Church Calendar be abused? Absolutely.
Paul reminds the Church in Galatians 4 that using the calendar to attempt to earn God’s favor is just as foolish as using anything to earn God’s favor.
Does this mean we should not use calendars as part of our discipleship?
No. Think about the other Spiritual disciplines.
Can prayer be abused? Absolutely, see Matthew 6 or Luke 18. Can reading the Bible be abused? Absolutely, see John 5. Can tithing be abused? Absolutely, see Acts 5.
Like any spiritual discipline, the Church Calendar is not immune to abuse.
But to dismiss the Church Calendar because of the potential for it to be abused is to allow other competing Calendars to continue to shape our affections unhindered.
When approached as an apprenticeship in holiness, following the Church Calendar can, by God’s grace, help shape us more and more into the image of Jesus.