Give peace a chance

Peace I leave with you, Jesus said to his disciples. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14 v 27

I have got this rest thing all wrong. Been looking in the wrong direction. I have imagined and fantasised rest as an absence of doing, a break from activity. A stretch of time outside normal life, with stress receptors on pause. Hard-won respite from reality.

But without peace there can be no rest. When I finally reach that plateau called rest I am so exhausted from the climb and so tense from the preparation that I cannot actually rest. And resent those around me who can. Forced rest, like forced love, is empty and superficial. A pretty husk. Ultimately pointless. And tiring.

This year has started fuller than last, with a new job adding to the usual stuff that comes with a houseful of children and a micro(scopic) business. I’m working very hard, but despite a well-developed vocabulary for stress and anxiety, I’ve not much use for it these days because, in truth, I’m neither stressed nor anxious. No more than momentarily. Home life is shape-shifting as the children become more independent, more able, sometimes even willing. We’re all growing.

The anxiety of whether I’m good enough, whatever that actually means, is losing its relevance. I wonder now why I wasted so much time on it. I think I now believe that I am able and that such a belief is both appropriate and healthy. Talking to my husband a few weeks ago about work challenges up ahead, I heard myself say that I was going to learn a huge amount over the next few months. There was a pause while we both tried to recognise the speaker. This was new, for me to see opportunities to grow instead of mountains to climb. To be still before the unknown with openness and expectation, not clenched with fear and foreboding. It was like new language had been downloaded into my mind without my having to learn it. A strange tongue.

This didn’t happen overnight. To quote my favourite Bible teacher, Joyce Meyer, there’s no such thing as a drive-through breakthrough.

They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall rise up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40 v 31

And I have been waiting. Expectantly. Like waiting for the man to come to install the heating system or unblock the pipes, I have been clearing my stuff out of the way so that God can get to work. He has heard my often tearful, snotty prayers to please help me stop going around in circles of self pity and introspection, blind to opportunities, blessings and gifts. He has reminded me of the power of worship to refocus and refuel. He’s given me some new practical strategies, too. Instead of staring at the problem until I’m paralysed, I step away for a while. And I have been asking God for help with specifics – that phone call, or phrasing that tricky email, that child kicking off. I get perspective by asking myself where this problem sits in the hierachy of The Worst That Could Happen. Death? Injury? The Wrong Envelope on Oscars Night?

I fall into bed exhausted and sleep deeply, rising earlier than I would like with a whole stack of tasks for the day ahead. But I don’t wake with a knot in my stomach these days, genuinely grateful for each day. The routine stuff of home that used to fill my time and take all day now gets done in a flash or not at all. So much more to do and so much more getting done.

Yes I’m boasting about God because what he is doing in me is worth boasting about.

He has poured peace into the place where anxiety used to smash me up like the blades of a blender. This peace grounds me instead of grinding me,  reminding me who I am. I use it to sift the thoughts that come. I consciously and regularly remember who God is and how he feels about me by reading and thinking about what his word says. And in those foetal moments when I run out of words and ideas – yes those still happen – God’s peace wraps itself around me like a blanket.

Perhaps all the time I wanted rest I really needed peace. The gift direct from Christ himself. I think of how Jesus breathed into the disciples just as God breathed into Adam. It was like Jesus was conferring a new kind of life on his followers. My God-breathed peace is becoming my default, replacing the darkness and negativity I lived with so long. In God’s peace I have space, room to manoeuvre, the choice to respond rather than react. Strength. Energy. Even courage. And in the midst of everything, rest.

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.

The Confidence Project

Some of us are bold by nature. Some of us are made bold by the gifts we discover in ourselves. Many more have gifts but no confidence. We all have something to contribute to this place we live in. I believe we were put here for a purpose. I haven’t found mine yet, and for years, thousands and thousands of days, I’ve been afraid to try. Afraid to fail. Afraid to be laughed at, to be found ridiculous or pathetic or whatever. I’m going to stop gazing at and describing this fear, accommodating myself to it and generally paying it too much attention. It’s time to take more direct action. Dismantle and demolish those dusty old complexes I’ve extended and customised over the years and tear down the walls of the labyrinth I’ve constructed to keep my ambitions and dreams safely contained.

Some of us are bold by nature. Some are made bold by outstanding gifts. And some, like me, are frightened into it. You see I know that If I don’t take action now, I’ll be stuck with a set of regrets to recite to myself in old age. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen it happen. I know a man who has lived a long and peaceful life, given generously of himself and his resources, always helped out where he could. He’s a popular family man with plenty of social capital. But when he thinks he’s alone he rehearses aloud and bitterly the scenes in his past that should have gone differently. Decisions he was too scared to take, risks he couldn’t face. Conversations that wounded. And although his life has by many measures been a great one, he has trained himself to see only failure and missed opportunities. At a time in life when I would hope to be enjoying the simple pleasures of being present, he is haunted by regrets.

So that’s why I’m starting my Confidence Project. For people who can’t hold two positive thoughts in a row without feeling unwell. For people who find cat posters annoying. For the formerly cynical, who have discovered the fear behind their mockery. For anyone who wants to join me.

 

 

 

 

Switching off the MeCam

I needed to take a new picture the other day using my webcam. It took me a while to figure out why my face was always in shadow. I must have taken about eight photos before I realised I was looking at myself, not at the tiny lens in the top of the screen. Not at the camera.

And I thought, oh. Is that what I’ve been doing all this time.

It’s very hard to do anything much if you’re constantly observing yourself. Checking your own progress. Re-playing conversations, assessing your performance. Looking in the mirror of other people’s responses. It’s also exhausting. No wonder I’m tired all the time. And so self-conscious. Why sometimes I talk as if speech was about to be banned, and at other times I can find nothing to say. My harshest critic has always been me. My biggest bully (and I’ve had a few) has been my own dear self, reminding me always of my failures and never of my successes.

So at the beginning of my 4Xth year I’ve decided to switch off the me-cam. I don’t need constant reassurance that I’m on the right track. I can trust God’s word and God’s methods to set me straight when I need it. I’ve decided to actually trust myself and my gifts this year. Possibly for whole days at a time. I aim to resist refuelling at the pit stops of self-pity, fear and sadness. I am going to check my progress, if I must, against what God says about me. I am going to surround myself with people who encourage, words that inspire and images that delight me. (No cat pictures though).

Jesus got a little exasperated with his disciples from time to time. On one such occasion, he had healed a boy his followers had not been able to cure. They asked him why they couldn’t do it. He said

Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

Matthew 17 v 20

I have no idea what this will look like, and that’s the point. I have speculated far too much about how things will look, or how I will look, and what others will think about it. Time to stop. So I’m switching that off. Now.

Life

Jesus said ‘The devil comes only to kill, steal and destroy. I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.’ He said that speaking about himself as the good shepherd, in John’s gospel. Chapter 10, if you’re interested. A full life. Not a life free of difficulties or limitations or stress or fear or pain, but one that is complete. A full life. That’s what I want. And I don’t want mine to be characterised by loss, death and destruction, which seemed to me the alternative to what Jesus represented. The devil, however you want to understand him, doesn’t offer me much worth having even if the secular world seems to offer all sorts of wonderful freedoms and opportunities in contrast to Christianity with its list of prohibitions and sensible shoes. (Okay, not all of us wear sensible shoes.)

I’ve had my periods of wandering off into what looks exciting in the without-God world. I’m not about to tell you any sensational stories because we don’t all need to get to the extremes. For me it was enough to realise that I was unhappy, empty and lost without God, and that living without Him simply wasn’t life.

Since my brother’s recent death I’m experiencing life differently. I am more aware of our connectedness to each other, our ability to feel part of each other. As a family we were surrounded by people who expressed that through their physical presence and through symbols of their shared grief. I can now better imagine the feelings of Jesus’ friends and followers after his death. Their leader, their friend, their teacher, gone. They would have been desolate, empty, despairing. And so are we all, who lose someone. That part of our lives that contained them stops with them. In a sense part of us dies too. Memories of them are also memories of an us that no longer exists. We are not the same after bereavement, we feel diminished. Lessened.

Then along comes Easter morning. And the ridiculous report that Jesus, so publicly despatched, has finished being dead and has been seen hanging around at the burial site. Another time, cooking people breakfast. Another time, letting one touch his wounds. What on earth do you do with a story like that? Do you let yourself hope that it might possibly be true?

I was the first in my family to see my brother’s embalmed body. I sneaked into the funeral home a couple of hours before our planned visit with the vicar. It was my first exposure to a dead body. I was a little freaked out, unsurprisingly. And the body lying there, when I finally gathered my courage to take the big journey across the small room, was a fair impression of someone who looked a bit like a waxwork of my brother. Not him at all. He was very much gone. And though in reality I probably would have had a heart attack, I would have loved him to just sit up and be alive, for all this pain to end. I could have helped him out of the coffin(he’d be a bit stiff by now, after all), got him into Mum’s car and presented him to Mum and Dad, and it would all be okay again. Better than okay, because he’d be back from the worst thing that could ever happen.

And anything could then be possible.