Rest

The year that started without a focus let alone a resolution has its own word now. It’s not an obvious one. But it’s the one I have been given to take into this year. The word to keep returning to, checking myself by, measuring myself against.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am of the simple clarity of starting the year with rest. Judging by the space devoted to it in all forms of media, December is the month for looking back over the previous 12 at lessons learnt, mistakes made, goals met or missed, weight lost or gained. For me, and countless others, December is the month where time, emotion, creative energy and dutiful attendance are all demanded in a continuous sushi train of year-end pageants, plays, concerts, sports presentations, speech nights, shopping trips, cooking marathons, late-night giftwrapping, Amazon marathons, surprise entertaining, carols at midnight, lists and expectations.

So come January I am spent. Nothing left.

Last year, December was, well, largely as I have just described. We had moved back into the house after the fire in September and then I had got a new job. And suddenly it was December. And I was totally unprepared. Not in my usual, exaggerating for effect way, I mean totally. Unprepared.

I realised something was amiss when I and no.3 spent two days looking for the Christmas tree. It took us awhile to realise why we had a box but no tree. Oh, yes, she and I suddenly remembered. The tree was destroyed in the fire. Not burnt, just impregnated with smoke. I had until then forgotten how the house was back then, frozen in time, still reeking of fumes, just as it was when we fled weeks before. It was an eerie experience, which I thought I would always remember. Wrong.

So when I knew that the tree had been binned, along with 15 years of accumulated decorations, I raced out to the nearest stuffMart and replaced it. The matching baubles I bought for it looked a bit alien in our slightly chaotic, uncoordinated living room. Only the star, another cheap and cheerful addition, secured to the top with the help of a cardboard loo roll, looked like it belonged here.

I realised I didn’t remember anything about last year between preparing a guest room for my father-in-law in early December and the fire breaking out on the 27th. Christmas was totally eclipsed. I was surprised by this gap in my memory. I suddenly wanted to sleep for a week. No chance of that, not with the December juggernaut on the move. But I realised the family all felt the same way. Finally Christmas came and we could stop. We couldn’t even be bothered to overeat.

Like last year, this year sort of started without me. Adversity does strange things to your perception of time. It plucks you out into another time zone, contiguous with this one but bending and twisting away from it unexpectedly. I didn’t move into 2016 until about May.

I’m catching up though. 2017 started for me about a week ago, with a prompt to sit with God and ask for a word for the year. I wanted this. I wanted to start in the right place, not waste time and effort pedalling into the wind. If I’ve learned anything from this last year, it’s that  generally, God’s way is the more peaceful and the more powerful. The less I try to control events, people and outcomes the more space there is for God to move. And His moves are infinitely better than mine. So I sat still for a while and I asked for a word for this year. And the word He gave me was rest.

Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall rise up on wings as eagles, they shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

So I will be learning how to rest over the coming year. How to work from a place of rest rather than stress, how to relax from a place of rest rather than guilt, how to enjoy, love, laugh and live the life abundant Jesus promised.

God made the rest day the first day of the week. I want to learn to work from a place of rest. I have a lifetime of busy-itis to fix. I think a year is a reasonable timeframe to work to.

Just as soon as I work out where to start.

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Self. pity

 

We’ve now moved to a short-term rental following our house fire a few weeks ago, with a bit of geographical stability and a space to make our own for the next couple of months. I am now connected to the internet without having to buy endless cups of tea, the kids are back at school, my work is back on track, and we’re all set.  But with this has come an unexpected challenge.

Here it is. For a month or so, a handful of people have known about our situation and helped out in various, beautiful ways.We’ve got on with moving, moving again, keeping our temper (mostly) with the insurance process and all the rest.  At the start of a new school year, with families drifting back from their holidays, other people are asking me what happened. And each time I talk about it, and significantly, each time I sense their sympathy and watch them imagining themselves in our shoes, moisture appears at the corners of my eyes. And everything I then say, and they respond with, adds to my sadness.

When they say ‘oh, you’re so brave, you’re taking it so well,’ I want to lie down and howl. And yet a strange thing happens to my tongue. It stops wanting to say positive things about all the exceptional kindness we’ve been shown, and instead  it describes and lists the loss, the shock, the frustration, all that junk.

I first noticed this when seeing a potential rental house a couple of weeks back. I mentioned it to the agent and her hand flew up to her mouth. If she’d not been holding a clipboard she might have hugged me. A couple of our kids were wandering through the house and she said ‘oh, and your poor kids, oh love, how are you coping?’ Well I was coping pretty well at that point to be honest but I poured out a little bit of self pity and felt a bit less capable after that.

This has begun to snowball into extended conversations with various friends and school parents, all with a heavy emphasis on how terrible it’s all been for everyone. Yes it has been difficult, but in the grand scheme of things it’s all manageable. I know how much God has blessed us in the midst of this, and yet it is so easy to not say that, so much easier to harp on the negatives, which is what the world expects and which pays us off in the sympathy of strangers.

What God is teaching me in this is the wisdom of guarding my tongue. I need to watch what I say because at the end of one of these conversations I feel drained and disappointed, flat and ashamed. Because in failing to mention the kindnesses, the generosity, the hospitality and the support God has given us, I am discounting His work in our lives and our situation, and I’m failing to give him the credit for the fact I can still smile and laugh and make jokes and trust that whatever lies ahead he’s already there and he knows what we need. It’s like realising that worship is not to make God feel good but to make us feel good.

It’s a bit like teaching your children to do something that’s good for them. They think you’re just nagging them because that’s what you live for as a parent. That’s also true, of course ;), but usually it’s for their benefit. Like brushing their teeth. Or practising an instrument.

I have to practise not using my tongue in a careless way so that my words really line up with reality, so there’s no tension between what I need to say and what others may be expecting to hear. For my own sense of well-being and consistency. And to give God the credit that is due.