It’s summer. Here in Chicago, our daytime high temps shot from the 50s and 60s to the 80s within a few days—which is typical.

By the time you read this my daughter will have graduated from 8th grade, my son from elementary school. Soccer season will end this week, and classes and other activities are finally winding down. Today I am trying to finish this newsletter while preparing to have my in-laws over to attend graduation.

Summer can be a time when things actually do settle down—or not. We get sucked into the trap of thinking summer is endless and put off what we really want to do. We see wide open days and rush to fill them, rather than relish them.

Try to keep summer as slow as you can. How? Choose very carefully what you say yes and no to. If someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, and your only plans are to putter in the garden, simply say, “I’m sorry, I have plans.” The more you say no to busyness, the more leisurely your summer will be. That’s hardly a profound statement—if you’re not busy, you’ll be leisurely. But how many of us can actually do the hard work of saying no?

Don’t sign your kids up for too much, if you can help it. If they are old enough to work at a job like babysitting or lawn-mowing, have them do that.

And also, explore the spiritual discipline of solitude.

With the kids home from school, solitude is harder to find. But not impossible. I love solitude in summer because I can enjoy it outside—in the garden, in a park, during a walk by the lake. Just watching loons dive, re-surface, flap their wings dry and do it all over—that’s a worship experience for me.

I can find solitude in a sidewalk cafe in the city, surrounded by strangers, even. God is everywhere—on a mountaintop and on a city street.

Solitude as a spiritual practice is not just being alone, but being alone with God. Spending one-on-one time with the God can feel intimidating. You wonder—will I feel God’s presence? Will I know what to do? Focus on this: the God who made all the beauty of summer loves you with a radical, deep and overwhelming love, and desires your company.

God created the beauty of summer flowers and singing birds, in part, because he knew you would find joy in it. And in part, because he finds joy in it. And the joy God finds in his own creation, and the joy you find in it, is just something you have in common. Appreciating beauty is part of what it means to bear the image of God. He set the earth in its orbit, just perfectly, so that we would have seasons and warmth. The next time you say, “Wow, what a beautiful summer day!” remember who came up with the idea of beauty and summer in the first place, and then arranged the solar system in such a way that we could experience. That same God wants to simply be with you.

We often have what I call a cell-phone relationship with God. We call him when we want something—a favor, or a little help, or to lodge a complaint. Sometimes we call to thank him or just say hi, but even then, we’re talking while we’re on the run. It’s not bad to keep in touch with God however we can. Some communication is better than none at all. And in fact, we often keep in touch with friends and family via similar communication—quick calls on the run.

Or we get into a rules-focused faith, where we just try to do stuff for God, to impress him or to mitigate our sin a bit. We have a performance-based relationship, which assumes God’s love is conditional.

But a truly deep relationship is not based on what we do for the other person. An abiding friendship can’t be maintained with only occasional quick calls asking for favors. Close, intimate relationships need unhurried time. Time where we put away the cell phone and sit on the front porch, enjoying both conversation and comfortable silence. Front porch conversations are leisurely. They’re more about time spent than words spoken.

Last weekend I put some bright blue plastic chairs on my small front porch. I potted up some pink impatients and stacked them around the chairs. I found a great sisal rug to put out there. It’s my new sanctuary, a place to sit and watch the world go by, a place to invite a friend to sit and have a glass of iced tea on a hot summer day and just relax.

The porch also serves as a reminder, every time I walk through my front door, to make some time for summer solitude—to carve out time to be alone with a God who loves me. A God who appreciates what I try to do to serve, but mostly, just wants to be with me.