Little Girl in a Blue Armchair by Mary Cassatt
Twice in the last few days friends have looked at me and said, You need to chill out. You are working too hard.
Really? What do you do when people tell you stuff like that? Especially when it seems like you've already slowed down to a snail's pace and what you've done with your day looks rather lean. But when two people you respect say the same thing, then it's time to listen. And I wonder if God's trying to add a third voice.
The closing lines from yesterday's scripture from Isaiah are familiar ones. "Those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary,they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31).
In the shower this morning, I realized that once again I have to ask myself the question, Is
what I am doing empowered by the Spirit of God, or am I just barreling along on willpower? I'm not sure right now if I can answer that question. There are seasons in life that are just downright hard, and it's nobody's fault. If you're stuck in a desert, you're going to have to focus pretty hard if you want to survive.
On the other hand, maybe what looks like a desert is truly a mirage. Maybe oasis after oasis has slipped by because you're focusing on the sand, and protecting yourself from the heat. I don't know. I do know, like the Israelites whose shoes didn’t wear out in those 40 years, God has kept providing exactly what I’ve needed. And I also know that it's time to rest. To learn how to play again and unlearn how to care overmuch. (Thankfully a vacation to Florida is only days away.)
Jesus was often frustrated by those who didn't have faith. He wasn't able to do the healing in their lives that he was sent to accomplish. I can understand why. Resting when there seems to be so much still to do requires faith. It requires giving up the daytimer, the desires, the to-do-lists and dropping them at the feet of a loving God, to take them up again when the time is right. And to trust that things will be OK in the meantime, and that you won't miss out on something important while you're away
But when I start wondering if this is really a good idea, I'm reminded of another passage from Isaiah, this from chapter 30:
For thus the Lord GOD,
the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”
But you were not willing.
Rest is offered. Rest is what I need. Am I willing?
A song of ascents. Of David.
My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
Dan and I are currently extending our holiday break in Ft Myers, FL. We're experimenting with the idea of adding time south of the border as a way of making peace with living in Pennsylvania. I grew up in the state, so the cold winters aren't anything new, but Dan spent a chunk of time in the Bahamas, and his blood has never thickened (thinned?) enough to make winter bearable. Subbing a few 70 degree days in January for ice and snow the rest of the winter seemed like a good strategy. While here, we're both focusing on writing, which makes this not only our first attempt at "snowbirding" but also our first working vacation.
A working vacation can mean the worst of both worlds, resenting work because you're not relaxing, or not able to rest because the email still needs to be answered. (I've heard of people who go to awesome locations for conferences and never even make it out of the hotel!) But I've been wondering if this combination can't be a helpful way to view life. God is both at rest (Heb 4:10) and at work (John 5:17) which seems to imply that we could manage this seemingly paradoxical way of navigating our days. Perhaps this is what Jesus is getting at when he talks about easy yokes instead of heavy burdens in Matthew 11:29. If we are able to start from rest, if we are able to embrace the peace that comes from God, then our "work" enters the flow of the Spirit, empowered and directed by the love of God.
Having a vacation mindset about life makes me less anxious, allows me to breathe. Choosing to live in rest expands my soul and my ability to continue with the next task in a spirit of grace. The "working" vacation part helps when the things that are on my docket aren't those I'm particularly pleased about. This isn't just about me, I remind myself. I don't keep peace by removing myself from the good that God is calling me to do. And so I need to stay alert, stay open to acting out of love toward those around me.
It's true. God is here; His Spirit is both at rest and at work-around me, in me, through me. Wherever I happen to be...
A fresh year beckons, offering unending possibilites. Not much is sure, but there is a peaceful calm as I wait for what's next.
Over the past few years, the phrase "and what we will become has not yet been revealed" has been slipping in and out of my consciousness. Yesterday while I was sitting at the breakfast table, I leaned into this idea of waiting. This poem starts with the experience of pregnancy and then moves to the universal experience of living in the season of expectancy.
And what we will become has not yet been revealed.
I John 3:2
Three times before, three times the nine,
The ancient rite enveloped me.
I grew into discomfort while
I nursed the joy. I hummed with hope-
Embraced anticipation’s end-
And fixed my sights on flesh-shared life,
The labor’s culminating love.
But this gestation is unknown;
When did conception’s seed take root?
I’m discomfited by the silence,
Feel the lack of outward change.
I don’t know what I’m looking for.
Have the thrusting pains begun?
And what is waiting to emerge,
To gasp and breathe the unrestricted air?
The revelation is withheld,
I have no clarity of thought.
Only the whispered oracles
In languages that spirit comprehends.
My mind is in the dark-the eye
Has closed in rest, has learned to trust,
Is cradled now in deep, familiar,
Mystery of sacred womb.