3 Words to Keep You Sane During Back-to-School Month (Or Any Month)

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

It was the first annual community picnic for my wife’s upstart pediatric development center. Employees and families were invited, and six families who had already been served by the project were planning to attend. There was a hayride scheduled. And a cookout. And volleyball. And an array of other outdoor events. But right when it was scheduled to begin, the skies opened and flooded the land.

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

Then, ninety-minutes later, as the rain continued to fall, we got a text saying the people had gathered anyway. Surprised, we piled into the car and, as we fishtailed down a muddy hill into the campground, we saw a small band of employees and families gathered beneath a pavilion. I did’t see a hayride, the volleyball court was a mud pit, and it looked like the festivities had failed.

I met the director of the center and told her I was sorry her first picnic got cancelled. She looked at me and smiled pleasantly and said, “Oh, it wasn’t really cancelled. Four families showed up and during a break in the rain, we went for a walk in the woods, down to the river.”

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

Because I’ve been seduced by programming.

Programming

Our televisions are getting thinner, while our television programming is getting more bloated—a basic cable package now offers 140 channels, and premium packages easily double that. But our televisions are just the beginning.

Our days are getting bloated by programming, too.

The school year is about to begin, and every parent knows what that means: weeknights packed with lots (and lots) of programs: back-to-school socials and curriculum nights and parent-teacher conferences, and parent-coach conferences, and parent-parent conferences in which couples attempt to organize all the homework and classroom celebrations and field trips and athletic practices and music lessons and playdates and, oh yeah, meals.

Our whole lives are being bloated by programming.

Soccer games here and there and everywhere (all at the same time), birthday parties and recitals and pageants, and weekend festivals galore. When a boring moment interrupts our busy schedule, we quickly dismiss it by reaching into our pockets, grabbing our phones, and going app surfing.

With so much programming, it’s easy to buy into the idea that life is programming. So, when you get to a company picnic where all the programming has been rained out, you assume the picnic is cancelled.

But you assume wrong.

Because life isn’t about programming; life is about people.

People

I’ve got a blog to maintain, a book manuscript to finish by November, and a therapy practice launching next week.

That’s my programming.

And to be honest, I can sometimes (okay, often) assume my programming is my life. So, when my wife needs me to be an actual husband, it’s easy to see her as an obstacle to my programming. Or when my kids are all on the verge of beginning a new school year in a new town and they need me to pay close attention because they are secretly terrified of this next adventure, it’s easy to see them as interruptions to my programming, like the President breaking into your favorite sitcom to talk about budget numbers.

Like rain on a summer picnic.

After all, my programming is important. Maybe even more important than…my people?

Sometimes, when my kids start to fight about who is winning a game they’re playing, I step in and remind them, “Hey, kids, people before points.” So, I guess when my ego is telling me all the stuff on my plate is more important than all the people at my table, I need to let myself be reminded by the still-quiet voice inside:

Hey, Kelly, people before programming.

Picnics

People. Before. Programming.

Those are three words that will keep me sane when there’s a typo in the blog post I didn’t have time to proofread because I was helping a kid hang bedroom posters and when the work on my manuscript gets interrupted by another kid who wants to go over his locker combination one more time.

Those are three words that might keep all of us sane as the school year awakens from its slumber, because they can remind us: in a way, life really is a picnic—it’s not about the programming that’s blowing up; it’s about the people who are showing up. Sometimes, the floods come and our plans get ruined, but life isn’t about what we were planning to do; life is about the people who are choosing to stand in the rain with us.

And we can always go for a walk with them.

In the woods.

Down to the river.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.