January is famous for it’s weary undertone. A month of slogging through with the promise of the early first weeks enthusiasm wearing thin as we realise we are still a Long Way from Spring. It’s a month for hibernation, naming goals and then planting them in the ground and waiting for growth. Some manage to push through the gloom to achieve resolutions whilst the rest of us hunker down under duvets surrounded by piles of tissues.
January has been a tale of two halves for me this year.
I was so eager to start the year. The first couple of weeks were full of shiny new starts, great ideas and the prospect of a well husbandface, as well as the tension of wondering if this period of well would last. I thought I’d had my collapse just before Christmas, but, as it turns out, that was just the precursor, the warning bell before I hit the wall. Husbandface carried on getting better and better and I pushed on through like I have always done. But then I got sick, a head cold, a virus, something was exhausting me. I pushed on. Husbandface talked about this period of counselling coming to an end point, he managed to process several things that before would have sent him spinning out, it seemed like this being better thing might be around to stay. He led church last Sunday morning. He wasn’t completely drained afterwards. I pushed on.
I went to lead our contemplative service on Sunday night. All I have been able to think about in these last three weeks are winter trees. I’ve stared and stared at them, desperate to learn their secrets of waiting, of resting. We reflected silently and then talked about the ways winter trees rest, of how we fear rest, of how unproductive rest looks, of how long resting looks. We talked about the winter trees living off stored food for the winter. I asked the questions of where do we need to embrace rest? What stops us from resting? What is hard about it? I didn’t realise I was actually asking myself.
I went home and cried on the lovely husbandface. I cried tired exhausted tears, tears of longing for rest. Tears coming from believing in this new world and tears of being unable to push through anymore. I felt overwhelmed. Unsure of what to do now. Knowing that I needed to somehow stop. I asked for prayer, I asked for help. (I’m not very good at this asking for help thing but I knew I needed connection and permission to stop, friends very kindly told me to rest). The next day I pondered the wisdom of getting signed off work for a bit. I only work 16 hours a week but it pretty much fills all time away from the boys in the week. Stopping officially for a bit would provide space for real rest. My pride baulked at such a choice. I wanted to be ok, to be fine, to be coping. The sane voice in my head, which I usually reserve for others spoke back, asked the question of what I would say to someone in my situation. I grabbed for courage and went to the doctors.
After briefly explaining our story of the last three years and crying when the doctor acknowledged the reality of how exhausted I must be I am now signed off work for a couple of weeks to rest and recover. I am glad I have listened to the warning signs, to the illness that wouldn’t shift, the despair in my head over small things, the fears of what others were thinking about me all the time, the lack of sleep, the tears. I am glad I have the chance to speak to my soul through the stuff I’ve been having to say out loud in this last month. Recently I preached about the first of the beatitudes. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. I said over and over again: ‘flourishing are those who know they are in need’. My words come back to remind me of this truth. I’ve been having conversations with my boss for the last couple of weeks about the slow work of God, the need to rest and start from a place of rest. I have been banging on about winter trees to anyone who will listen. I am finally listening. I have a couple of weeks to fully embrace this winter tree resting is what flourishing looks like right now thing.
Why am I writing this here? I reckon I’ve always posted thoughts in this small dusty corner of the internet on the off chance that others walking by will know that they aren’t the only ones. I’ve encouraged enough friends to take time off, to rest, to seek help and it is good to acknowledge that I need it too. It’s hard to ask, it’s hard to put my pride on the floor and say I can’t do it. I want to be a hero. I’m not.
I have two weeks off in front of me, I want to rest well (the perfectionist part of me wants to win at rest but we’ll acknowledge that she’s a bit daft and give her up a cup of tea to calm her down). I know there are components that will help me rest well. Walking, reading, writing, talking to my Maker, watching familiar tv shows guaranteed to make me cry to let the tears out, some people contact, eating well and generally going slow. I want to remember that rest is a fundamentally important part of life, that accepting it in a world that doesn’t value it much isn’t a bad thing. I want to be restored, to put good practices back in my life that will help rest get into the everyday and I want to mark this time with joy because we have come to a place where I am able to stop and lie down in a green pasture.
These verses from Isaiah and Jeremiah are ones that I’ve journeyed with throughout my life and I come back to them again.
Isaiah 30:15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.
Jeremiah 6: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.
I want to heed the warnings at the end of these verses, I don’t want to reject these good ways to life. I want to walk in the good ways, I want to rest, repent, be quiet and trust. I want to do these countercultural things. I want to know the rest that comes from stilling my soul in the presence of it’s Maker, and then I want to learn how God works so that I will be able to keep going long term, full of joy because I am known, loved and enough as I am.
As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.
I expect I’ll be blogging a bit more in these next couple of weeks, it’s good for me to process these tumbling thoughts in my mind, and if it reassures anyone else to know they aren’t the only one then I am glad.
Here’s some more of those winter trees resting so so well.
It is midwinter. All around trees lie dormant, waiting, resting, conserving energy for growth. They are not dead, merely resting, living in the dual dynamism of activism and rest throughout the cycle of the year.
When winter comes, the woody parts of trees and shrubs can survive the cold. The above ground parts of herbaceous plants (leaves, stalks) will die off, but underground parts (roots, bulbs) will remain alive. In the winter, plants rest and live off stored food until spring.