I guess the fact that I haven’t had a chance to blog for well over a week tells you all you need to know about how things are going with this month’s focus fast. Eat only seven foods for a month? Easy. Manage with only seven items of clothing? No problem. Stop to draw breath and pray seven times a day…not quite so straight forward.
But, in the spirit of what I am trying to do in this final period of Simplify 7, I’m trying not to let it add to the stress. Even on the worst days, I’ve still managed to pause at least three times – and I’ve still found those times really beneficial. Those brief moments of peace and reflection are like oases for the soul. I leave them refreshed and ready for the next part of the journey.
It would be nice if I was able to report that all the stress was draining away, but life isn’t like that. For a start, if it was that easy, I probably wouldn’t be particularly stressed in the first place. I am starting to change how I handle it, but it feels like slow progress – and I can’t pretend it’s not frustrating.
But then I keep remembering something I read not too long ago. Or rather, semi-remembering: sadly, I can’t remember where I read it or exactly what it said. But it was wise words to the effect that the things we find it hardest to let go of are probably the things that we really need to let go of – at least if we are serious about making more space for God in our lives. Turns out that the thing I’ve found it hardest to let go of was not my favourite foods, my clothes, my ‘stuff’ or any of the other things that have been involved in Simplify 7 – it’s stress! The one thing that I actively want to reduce – not just for a month, but for good.
I’m not alone in this. I share my life with a whole load of people who work far more hours than they are paid for, who feel guilty if they ever say no to something, who are prepared to bend over backwards for others and see it as perfectly normal and acceptable that they are permanently exhausted – even if they recognise that they are sometimes less effective because of it. It’s really hard to come off that treadmill. Particularly when you feel, as I do, that the things that keep you there are worthwhile and important. It feels good to have a purpose-driven life…even if sometimes it feels like it’s going nowhere fast! There’s a kind of trust involved: just keep going!
But there’s a balance to be found – and I’ve been struck by how many books and blogs there are aimed at people trying to find that balance. One of my favourites is ‘Present over Perfect’ by Shauna Niequist, and I particularly like this section (in fact it might be the one I was thinking of earlier!)
God in his goodness has been doing this thing in my life for a long time – surprising me, drawing me along to places I could never have imagined.
Whatever thing you think you can’t do without: alcohol, shopping, that number on the scale. That car, that secret habit, that workout. The pills, the lies, the affair. the money, the success, the cutting. Whatever it is that you clutch onto with angry fists, that you grab like a lifeline, when you release that thing, when you let it go, that’s when you’ll hear the notes between the music. That’s when you’ll feel the groove, the rhythm you were made to feel, that you’ve covered over a thousand times with noise and motion and fear and all the things.
When you hear it, you’ll realise it sounds a lot like your own heartbeat, the rhythm of God, of life, pumping in your chest, the most beautiful song you’ve ever heard.
(extract from Stars in Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist)
It’s not easy to let go of being busy. It’s just as much an act of will as keeping going. And it takes just as much trust – more in some ways. Being busy can at least give the illusion of being in control!
So, I guess I’ll keep going…keep trying to stop! (Or at least slow down; pause to pray a few times every day) It might seem as foolish as running to stand still – but sometimes it’s the best thing to do. Keep trying. Keep learning. Keep trusting.
I feel I need to confess that I used to really dislike Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd). Maybe it was the connection with funerals; maybe the arrogant cynic in me just couldn’t deal with the fact that it was so well known and well loved (familiarity breeds contempt, after all); maybe it was the image of sheep (never helpful for me!)…or maybe it was just because I just didn’t get it!
Older (and hopefully wiser) I find that it’s become one of my favourite Psalms. This Stuart Townend version is beautiful and prayerful (once you get past the You Tube ads!) – and perfect for pausing. I hope you enjoy it.