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.

Belonging

I’m not much of a joiner. I’m not an active member of any clubs. I prefer to hover on the periphery, keep my options open. Marriage was the only grouping to which I willingly committed myself, though not without some trepidation. Our vicar did a dangerous thing when he gave me the opportunity to run away before the service started. Well, he didn’t call it that, exactly, I think he said something about giving me time to collect my thoughts, but I immediately interpreted it as my escape hatch. I’m glad to say I resisted the temptation. But it didn’t change my usual preference for sitting on the sidelines. I value my independence, the flexibility of being able to opt out at my convenience, not having to commit. Total independence does have its downside, though. The one who doesn’t join remains detached.

I have always wanted to do my own thing, not follow the track others have taken. And I have always suspected that joining a group would stifle that, force me to march to a beat set by others, make me align with people I disagree with, lump me in with them in the eyes of the world. I was brought up in church and for years resisted making any commitment to it even after becoming a Christian, thanks to my fear of commitment. I spent years dancing around the edges, enjoying the good bits, of which there are many, and rejecting the bits I found difficult and at times embarrassing. However, I know and have always really known, that to belong to God, to Christ, is to belong also to his church.

The apostle John said: ‘If anyone says, I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.’ (1Jn 4: 20 – 5:1)

So I have to love all those who love God. Belonging to God means I need to love all who belong to God because in belonging to God, who is Father, we become brothers, sisters. Family. I belong with them, though not to them. It’s easy with those I think wonderful, kind, compassionate and, frankly, lovable. It’s also fine with those who think like me. But I also belong with those whose positions are fiercely opposed to mine or which lead them to violence or abuse of those who disagree with them both inside and outside the church. These people, if they believe that Jesus is the son of God, are also my brothers and sisters in Christ even if their reading of His word points them in a different direction.

I don’t get to choose. But I do get to belong with the apostles spoken of in scripture, with impetuous Peter, who told Jesus he’d die for him and went on to deny him a few hours later. With Paul, the Jewish convert who travelled widely to spread the news of the Jesus he formerly denounced. With Christian martyrs and missionaries down the centuries, the famous and the forgotten, with ordinary men and women who have lived unremarkable but influential lives. I belong with a peculiar people who have contributed great and terrible things to the history of the world. I cannot divorce myself from the bad or take credit for the good. But I must acknowledge my brothers and sisters and say, yes, I belong in the church.