All of the ‘fasts’ I’ve undertaken so far as part of Simplify 7 have focused on less. This one, too, is supposed to be about reducing the stress in my life, but where the others have mostly been about going without, this one is about more. More prayer. More time to focus on God in my life.
It isn’t easy.
Praying the hours (as I described in my last post) is about pausing at certain times in the day (and night) to acknowledge God’s presence and blessings, to seek his guidance, to celebrate life and the passing of time…it’s a great discipline. But it isn’t easy.
There are those whose entire lives are built around prayer. They are not all monks or nuns, they are not all even in jobs that are obviously fully focused on God or the church. But that’s not me. Not yet, anyway!
I’ve more or less managed to pray the hours every day throughout the last week and a half (since Lent started). I’ve enjoyed it, and it’s been a privilege. But, if I’m totally honest, some of those pauses have been a little bit ‘blink and you miss it’. It’s just not that easy to walk out of a meeting, stop in the middle of a phone call, or break concentration on the task in hand. The Night Watch prayer (at midnight) has been generally fairly brief but it hasn’t had anything but sleep to compete with. Some of the other pauses, on the other hand, have happened up to two hours after they were supposed to. And no, I have not amended the timing of the prayer at the Awakening Hour to take account of the increasingly early dawn – it has remained firmly anchored to the time that my alarm goes off (which, to be fair, is still before dawn some days.)
Part of me is annoyed by this. I like to get things right. I can be a bit ‘all or nothing’ too: if I can’t be perfect, I might as well not bother. But one of the most powerful things I’ve learned over the whole period of engaging in Simplify 7 (and for a while before that) is how damaging perfectionism can be. It keeps me busy, always onto the next thing, never satisfied with anything, never feeling that anything I do is good enough, striving for success and never thinking I’ve come close to attaining it…
But the truth is, I’m not perfect. Life isn’t perfect. The whole concept of perfection is meaningless – except that God is perfect.
I am just me. Life is just life.
All I can actually do is keep praying, keep learning, keep focused on what God wants me to do…and, believe me, I still struggle with understanding that!
I use The Message Study Bible on a daily basis. I love the language, and I love the fact that there are comments and notes from Eugene Peterson throughout. Proverbs 15 v 19 says:
‘The path of lazy people is overgrown by briers; the diligent walk down a smooth road.’
On its own, that proverb would make me feel fairly smug. Well, most of the time…the perfectionist in me would have to acknowledge that there are times when I am lazy, but it is not something I aspire to! But then I read Eugene Peterson’s commentary:
‘I think we can spot a lazy person when we see one. But I want to talk about another kind of laziness that isn’t so apparent to the eye. The busy person, in my mind, is a lazy person. Being busy is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It’s filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s actions and entering into them. Consequently, busy people are lazy people because they aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing.’
That brought me up short the first time I read it – and it still does. It also explains why, when I feel I am being diligent and working really hard, my life isn’t always the smooth road the proverb suggests it should be. Experience (my own and others I’ve spoken to) suggests that the road is indeed much smoother if you’re doing what God wants you to do…even if it’s a really hard and unpleasant thing. I’ve always concluded, as it says in the very famous Footsteps poem, that this was because I was being carried.
But it’s hard, sometimes, to discern what the right thing is. I decided not to go to church this morning. I wanted to go. I knew I would miss the fellowship – and I also knew that I would feel guilty about not being there. But I was also feeling extremely tired and in need of some time alone. I know some people don’t understand that – many people are uncomfortable with their own company – but I’m an introvert as well as a perfectionist!
It was a struggle: the other element of this part of Simplify 7 is keeping the Sabbath. I really didn’t know what I would do. I prayed. And I woke this morning with the words of a song, playing over and over in my mind. Fragments of ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ (which you can read in its entirety here and listen to here) and which seemed to me to be the answer to my prayer.
It’s a hymn about finding peace in the midst of all the madness and chaos of life. It paints an image of Jesus taking his own alone time ‘to share with thee the silence of eternity, interpreted by love!’
There are things I will have missed by not being there, but I am trying not to feel stressed about that. There are blessings I have received by taking the time to rest, to pray, to let the Spirit breathe peace into my life and help me prepare for the week ahead. I’ve been learning that the Spirit sometimes moves much more forcefully when I stop trying to urge him to move in a particular way.
I’ll leave you with some words from the Compline prayer (prayers at the end of the day) as it’s set down in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals I find it inspiring and incredibly motivating, even as it reminds us that we are all far from perfect:
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.