Sunday, 13 October 2013

Sermon to self

As an advert for Christianity, the quotation 'my power is made perfect in weakness' doesn't come across as very attractive. From St. Paul*, it haunts those who are not only ordained, but also 'trained', to within an inch of their lives, to be organised, professional, competent, strong, smiling priests of the church.

But when it all gets a bit much, it can be the best verse in the bible. It would seem that those in the caring professions, particularly Christian ministers, are a lot better at looking after others than they are at looking after themselves. In fact over a two week period recently my whole life became a 'sermon to self' on this particular subject. The fact that I thought I knew about boundaries, self awareness, rest and days off, and still became overwhelmed, makes it quite likely that even the 'strongest' can find themselves caught out in a bit of real, live, can't-really-carry-on-right-now full blown weakness.

Boundaries are fine as long as they do their job - i.e. keep certain things in and hold other things out. But it's like the autumn when leaves find their way down drains and rain water spills onto the road - boundaries dissolve. 'Work' spills into 'life'; 'life' spills into 'work'. Family and ministry can happily co-exist, or chafe like badly fitting boots. We're so less in control than we think, but certain things are our teachers in these times of quite scary freefall. Here are three that schooled me.

Rest is a state of mind.
Rest is not just taking your day off. It's about the quality of your time off, and finding other times of rest through the week. Daily bread includes the idea of enough strength for that day. In an ideal world there would be no housework, shopping or school run on the day off. In the real world, it's only a day off from being a Curate. Everything else, for a mum, carries on as normal. If, by the end of it, I'm more tired than I was at the beginning, something's gone wrong.

Multi-tasking is over-rated.

I used to be secretly proud of my ability to multi-task. This is what the church needs! People (i.e. women) who can mentally plan a sermon while stirring the bolognese, helping with homework and answering emails in the kitchen on their smartphone. Somewhere between the sermon and the bolognese my brain just gave up and I realised I could no longer do one thing at a time, or in fact anything slowly or mindfully. This is generally very bad for your spiritual and psychological health. To unscramble your brain from the multi-tasking habit, from the feeling that if you don't keep all the balls in the air simultaneously everything will fall apart, is very difficult indeed. But vital. I should have taken my cue from my occasional quiet days, taken in a large and peaceful country house, where the highlight of the morning for me is boiling the kettle in my room, making a cup of coffee, sitting down in a chair and drinking it, while looking out of the window. And nothing else.

Time is subjective.
I think the phrase is 'more haste less speed'. I was never very good at calculations involving time, distance and speed
but I think the idea is that if you rush through life you will find in the end everything takes longer because, presumably, doing things slower, more carefully (more mindfully), will actually save time eventually. And in my recent recovery time, this is precisely what happened. I was forced to slow down, not do things, let other things surface. And I was less frustrated, more at peace and more willing to stop when my body told me to, instead of when the work was finished (because, funnily enough, the work is never finished). And the body doesn't lie.

Slowing down reacquaints you with the stuff going on inside, of which there is a vast amount. Working through 'stuff' takes time. So everything else takes more time than you think. It's like when you've been caught speeding (NO...yes...) You have to recalibrate the time it takes to get anywhere. My physics isn't so bad that I don't know that if you religiously observe all the speed limits, the time it takes to get anywhere it will be longer

So time is what I make it. I can look at the clock and think 'I only have fifteen minutes before x' or I can look at the clock and say, 'Wonderful: I have fifteen minutes to sit and be.' The difference between these two, in terms of well being, is considerable.

Sermon to self over. I fear, and am suspicious of weakness. But it's part of being human. Rest is a gift designed to renew us through and through. You cannot skimp on it. Do one thing at a time and do it with your whole self. And time is subjective. There's always enough. It's just that we try and squeeze too much into it. Sooner or later, if we don't heed our own sermons, there'll be a massive leak. 

*2 Corinthians 12:9

1 comment:

  1. Very timely for me too - thank you for sharing and inspiring