Weather

In England, where I grew up, people don’t really talk about the weather despite the stereotype. In Tasmania, where I now live, we sometimes have four seasons in one hour. You’ll often see combinations like board shorts and puffer jackets and flip-flops and beanies all on the same person, all appropriate on the one day. Locals walk through showers, whether in suits or sandals, simply ignoring the rain.

Weather affects my moods and my inclinations, my energy levels and my enthusiasm. In this place, apart from anything else, I am learning to keep going whatever the weather. To enjoy the sun when it comes out but not too much (even dark skin is no match for a hole in the ozone), wrap up against a sudden Antartic snap, enjoy a light misting , or more, of rain and then get blown up the street by the wind.

And then there’s my personal weather. The competing pressures and dynamics of the aspirations and duties and people that surround and affect me. Every once in a while I find that these coalesce into a storm that throws me around and makes me feel anxious and inadequate. I worry about getting hurt. About drowning.

Then I remember the story of Jesus in the storm. It’s in Luke 8 v 22- 25.

Jesus and the disciples have set out in a boat on a calm lake, when a squall comes up and threatens to swamp the boat. The disciples are terrified. Jesus is asleep. They wake him up and he commands the wind and the waves to subside. Which they do. He asks them ‘where is your faith?’ They are amazed, seeing how powerful he is over an element that they, as fishermen, know pretty well and have a healthy fear of.

You know what’s coming. But it’s easy to ignore or forget. That same Jesus, the one in the book, the one from Sunday school, is in my boat, my life, with me. Resting. Undisturbed. Unmoved by the threats and roar of the waves, he lives his life with me. I need to be like him, unmoved, dead to the threat of these pressures. They are in fact the medium by which I move, the element through which my boat manoeuvres. I can use some winds but not all, ride some waves and avoid others. Better still, I can say to the seas and the winds, Be still. Because I can speak with the authority of Christ, who lives in me.

Not in control

It’s interesting that as children we know we have no real power. We depend on what our parents provide, or don’t, whether materially or emotionally. As we grow up, our desire for autonomy has us believe it possible to be in control, to do what we want when we want etc. With maturity and life experience we circle back to the realisation that we have very little influence over the events or people in our lives. There are ways to lessen the impact of that knowledge, sweeteners against the bitterness of that, I suppose, like insurances or cosmetic surgery or elaborate alarm systems or special diets. In truth, all we can control, if we choose to, is ourselves.

I’ll be honest. As a parent, I loved those rare times things went to plan. When I could organise the children without needing to encourage, persuade, cajole or submit a full legal argument. When I was able to meet the simple needs of my children for shelter, warmth, food and affection. As they grow older and some enter the twilight zone of adolescence, their needs are becoming more complex, beyond my capacity. I can’t do it all, provide it all, be the one they come to, confide in, take notice of. I would love to be able to control that, to roll time backwards, perhaps do some things differently.

But now they have other role models. Other adults and peers they listen to and model themselves on. I find myself more often behind that invisible wall separating teenagers from their parents. And there I watch and pray and enjoy the occasional visit, or invitation to sit in their world for a while. That’s on a good day. On all the other days I seethe with frustration because they’ve taken too long to come to the table and my once-hot meal is now congealing on their plates, or because they haven’t shown much interest in my great idea for next weekend or they just move too slowly or don’t want to tell me about their day.

I sometimes worry that I may not have taught them much. Or given them consistent advice. Of course, my advice is not necessarily what they need. I can’t hold their hands forever. Nor can they keep holding mine. Co-dependency is not pretty.

What they do need is to know is that God is only a prayer away, always. I just hope that all the times they’ve heard and seen me calling on God, often in none-too-churchy desperation, and later thanking him, they know that it has been genuine.

This same God, who loves my children too, would have me let go and focus instead on developing self-control, a highly underrated quality. This is easier said than done. Like a lot of stuff in the book. But I’m not in this alone, so I ask for help and try to let him help me.

On a good day.

Yes. And No.

A poem by Roger McGough called The Leader neatly describes where my head was after I wrote The Confidence Project. Just substitute the word ‘Confident’ for ‘The Leader’ and you’ll have it. There I was, all dressed up with my great new attitude and nowhere to go. But then I began to say yes instead of no to things, some small, some more significant. Instead of panicking loudly at whoever is foolish enough to listen,  I started forcing myself to do things for other people. Make stuff. Turn up.  The thing is, I don’t like to commit. It puts me under pressure to live up to some expectation or requirement I’m not certain I can meet. But Confidence says yes where I would usually say no. I haven’t been this busy or satisfied  in years. It is possible that I have finally grasped the blindingly obvious fact that confidence isn’t a superpower that is imparted all in one go, fully formed, but grows gradually, as experience teaches you.  Replacing the long perfected and amusing excuses to say no with reasons to say yes is like learning a new language. That’s okay. I’ve learned new languages before.

And then there’s No. Starving myself of  my usual negative behaviours.  This means observing more and saying less. Trying less hard. Breathing out more. Allowing myself to relax before the event, not afterwards. Switching off the internal commentary. Relaxing for whole minutes at a time. I didn’t realise this until the church picnic I organised at the weekend. Tell you why. Because I fell off the wagon, big time. Instead of saying no to the first negative thought that sidled up to me, I let it in and shortly thereafter slid off into full-on sweaty-palmed panic at the thought of all that could go wrong (go wrong? At a picnic? Are you kidding? I hear you say…) no, really. It was a pitiful catalyst for an adrenalin overdose, but I felt powerless to stop it. And then I remembered to say no, enough. I shut my mouth and opened my eyes. These lovely people I was worried about were talking, laughing, eating, and playing games. In short, enjoying themselves. All was clearly well. Like it usually is.