A time for everything
Help us to remember that our days are numbered,
and help us to interpret our lives correctly.
Set your wisdom deeply in our hearts
so that we may accept your correction.
Psalm 90:12 (TPT)
I am one of the BRF team members who has just returned to work from the government-funded furlough scheme. After a few years of juggling significant family concerns with a busy job, this sudden, enforced sabbatical came as an unforeseen act of grace.
It was an opportunity to take things at a more manageable pace, to exercise and pray more, to be creative and, paradoxically, to feel less isolated and more connected to family, friends and neighbours (finally able to make time for each other): to appreciate the moment.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)
For all too many, this has been a season of grief, anxiety, loneliness, exhaustion or sickness. But for some of us, it has been a time to take stock, to value the simpler things in life and to discover God in the here and now. (Thankfully, there is nothing on this earth that can entirely escape God’s touch of healing and grace.)
Discovering a new pace
Freedom from the daily grind can both liberate and disorientate. If you’re based at home, for whatever reason, you’ll know all too well the importance of routine in keeping grounded. A well-known celebrity shared this tip, which helped me adjust my expectations during lockdown: ‘Don’t be surprised if everything takes longer.’
In a day without the usual markers, we can find it harder to focus – especially if we’re the type whose mind is inclined to fire on all cylinders, or if we’re bored, itching for human interaction or suffering low mood.
A quick online task can easily take us down a rabbit warren from which we emerge an hour later with little to show for it. Despite having more time to sit with God in prayer, our minds may wander even more than usual, as we disappear down the tracks of our distractions. In lockdown, the precious currency of time can become devalued. There is a fine line between resting in and wasting the moment.
‘In lockdown, the precious currency of time can become devalued.’
The concept of ‘mindfulness’ can offer valuable strategies for dealing with wayward thoughts: quieten yourself by noticing your breathing, how you are feeling, the sights, textures and sounds around you; then, when distractions arise, acknowledge them and imagine you’re watching them floating away down a river.
My own approach is nothing new: a daily liturgy (borrowed from a hybrid of various church service sheets) that carries me and my distractions into the healing space of prayer and Bible reading. Occasionally it’s updated with specially chosen verses to remind me of God’s truths and promises in relation to particular needs. When I’m distracted or I don’t know what to pray, the timeless words on this well-worn page still me, so I can enter a place where God’s priorities can surface.
The rhythm of prayer
For over a millennium, the spirit of prayer has inhabited the little, ancient corner of the Thames Valley where I live. Over 1,400 years ago a foreign missionary called Birinus once baptised the West Saxon King Cynegils here, and was given land vacated by the Romans for church-planting. On that site, the bells of a once Augustinian abbey still mark the hours. Nearby, an ornate little Victorian chapel, named after the saint who brought the faith to these fertile floodplains, has for a century and a half rung the Angelus for midday prayer, recalling the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary:
Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.
Luke 1:38 (KJV)
There is much to be said for the monastic tradition of incorporating into our lives these daily moments when we intentionally submit to the one we serve. When I hear the bells of the Angelus, I’m reminded of the many Christians who throughout the centuries have done just that.
Give your left brain a rest
What helps you enjoy the moment? Creative activities – knitting, painting, baking, sewing, mending, cooking, gardening, playing an instrument?
Furlough has shown me how much the ‘normal’ demands of both family life and work place a burden on the ‘left brain’ (the part responsible for logical, analytical, planning activities). Surrendering to creative tasks that engage our ‘right brain’ can free us from over-thinking and give us space to thank God for his love, care and provision and for the beauty of which he is the source. Often when we lose ourselves in simple tasks, and let go of worrying away at a problem or grievance, the answer emerges by itself.
‘The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of’
Psychologists are discovering more about the ways in which engaging the senses through creativity and the natural environment can enhance mental health. Research has even shown that working with soil favours mental well-being – good news for lockdown gardeners everywhere!
Even if you’re not a gardener, the scent of rose, lavender or honeysuckle on a summer evening can instantly lift your spirits – and the feel-good-factor of smelling fresh food from a warm oven is as well known to cooks and bakers as it is to estate agents.
Equally familiar is the power of music to soothe, relax and revive. Bach is generally my go-to for bringing the sublime to the sofa, and in these past few months I’ve also had time to discover new artists. My favourite of the moment is The Brilliance, whose ‘Dust we are and shall return’ provides a moment of peaceful contemplation, no matter what’s going on in life, reminding me to ‘be still my soul and let it go’.
Perhaps you have a favourite piece of music that helps you regain perspective? When did you last take the time to enjoy it?
Beside still waters
I’m incredibly fortunate to live in a riverside village, surrounded by flat green fields, meadows dotted with wildflowers and cool woodland – all of which I now have time and health to enjoy regularly. It’s a walker’s paradise, and heaven for the prolific wildlife that scamper, creep, buzz and soar around it.
A flock of sheep grazes these grasslands, reminding me of the verses in Psalm 23 that so many of us have held on to during the last few months. Never have these enduring words seemed more apt. I know them by heart from the King James Version set to music that my mother frequently sang as the church choir soloist when I was a child.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:1–3 (KJV)
In this time of furlough, God has led me literally beside still waters, lapped by peaceful sheep, and also into a greater dependence on him and more consistent intercession.
Where has God been leading you throughout this time? Has he placed a burden on your heart for someone or for a particular issue? Is he leading you to do something differently or something new? Or to stop doing something?
Has he placed a new person in your life? Has he gifted you with more time to enjoy unhurried conversations with friends and family? Or to be more playful or to relax more?
When you are quiet for a moment and ask him to speak to you, who or what does he bring to your mind?
His goodness and mercy
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23:6 (KJV)
When life seems to go pear-shaped, as 2020 has for so many, it can be hard to see the long view. Ultimately we know there is no safer place than within the forgiveness and provision of God. Quite what it means to live in his house forever is beyond what most of us can imagine.
That doesn’t matter: we are invited to come to faith as little children, and enjoy God’s hospitality now and throughout eternity. As I look around at the wonderful home God has given us here on earth, I for one am looking forward to exploring the unsullied beauty of our heavenly dwelling.
Until then, I pray we will all have eyes to recognise, and hearts to be open to, his goodness and mercy in all the moments of our days.
by whose Spirit we exist
so that we might bear fruit for you,
may we measure our lives
not by what we achieve or possess,
but by how much we give,
how many we love
and how often we hear
your ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’