It’s Ash Wednesday and it’s snowing outside, first small flurries blowing around in the air and then the flakes get larger and settle. I’ve been bringing spring bulbs into the house for several weeks now, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips, like a woman with a mission to bring all of God’s flowers in from the cold. The spring is not here yet but it is in our sight. We can bring a little of it inside and keep it in a vase, there’s no harm in that, but when it really comes in all it’s shooting budding gladness there will be no containing it.
I should be working hard today but God says ‘Rest!’
I hear this a lot at the moment.
I’ve been up in the night with a sore throat that would not let me rest. Edward is off school with a temperature and headache. I want to make schedules and book appointments, set up meetings and hatch plans. I want my diary to be full, I want the alarm on my phone to ring all day, to remind me and anyone else listening how busy I am. As if the busier I am, the more certain I am of my own existence and value.
More often than not I plan a full day with targets and measures of achievement, only to find circumstances beyond my control mean I can’t complete; a cancelled meeting, my CRB lapsed, snow, someone is sick. I can’t get my work done and God says rest. It is like I begged for rest but when it comes as a gift I’m too scared to take it. When I see rest in its true expansive glory I just want to fill it with activity. I have a God who is not scared of hard work but he tells me rest.
It goes against every fibre of my hard working self. I have this battle ever since I gave up my full time teaching job. I went form a 6am start and a 6pm finish, work at home in the evening and through the weekend. I managed staff and pupils and various academic subjects their deadlines and schedules, stretch targets, classes back to back, before school catch up sessions and after school revision, detentions, yard duty, resources to make for the less able, for the most able, PowerPoints, worksheets and card sorts, pupils to chase up, colleagues to see (because I don’t like to do business by email), meetings and marking to follow, eleventh hour memos and unpredictable pupil interruptions, teenaged angst kicking off at every corner, mastered, managed and recorded, parents to phone, governors to impress, visitors to meet and filing, lots of filing. Now I teach part time and on the other days my hard work is rest and pray, read the word and spent time with some of the best people on the face of the earth; real good time, whole lengths of quality time. Then rest, pray and read some more. The contrast is too much!
I don’t like resolutions, they are slave drivers. This year I find the asceticism of giving something up for Lent does not appeal. God has told me rest and this is one of the things I choose to rest from. I’m still learning to live blessed, to enjoy God, to cherish his unconditional love. There is freedom in knowing this: there is nothing I can do to make him love me more and there is nothing I can do that will make him love me less. There is no better reason to rest. I’m rejoicing whilst the bridegroom is here.
But I do have a Lent project: learning the red letter words of Jesus. I started today for real, two verses, very beautiful, and today they are my rest.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they will be comforted.
The kingdom of heaven does not belong to the bold and the sure. It does not belong to the busy or the indispensable. It does not belong to those who have worked hard for everything they have or to the extra mile, purpose driven, ladder climbing ambitious types. It does not belong to the ones who hold the mic and write the books. You can not buy a ticket for its concert tour and there will be no t-shirt or souvenir programme. It does not have money or fame or celebrity headlines. The kingdom of heaven is not scared of your failures, it does not blink when you say, ‘I can’t go’ on. It does not turn away from you disappointed when on your knees you cry out, ‘But I have nothing more to give’. The kingdom of heaven has never been discouraged by mental health problems, depression, self hatred or self harm. It knows that sometimes you feel scared, intimidated and lack the courage to do the simplest things. If you loose your job or get passed over on promotion the kingdom of heaven does not shrink back. The kingdom of heaven loves poor and broken spirits. It loves them when they are well dressed and healthy and it loves them when they are in rags. There is no escaping this upside down, flipped reality of rest.
Last night I read Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, some of it in silence and some aloud. I found the reading of the words of Mother Teresa hard, like walking on a narrow ledge and needing something to hold on to. But the words were good. Where she says ‘silence’ I hear ‘rest’,
We need to find God and he can not be found in noise and restlessness. God is a friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. Is not our mission to give to the poor in the slums? Not a dead God but a living loving God. The more we receive in silent prayer the more we can give in our active life. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us. All our words will be useless unless they come from within.
Mother Teresa (from Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God)