24 June 2016
The third in a six part series by Alice Bond
When I was living in London I invariably (most evenings) used to leave my house and / or work for an evening event about the time I was due to arrive. As it takes on average 45 minutes to get into the centre of London, and another 45 minutes to get to any chosen location, this indeed meant that I was one and a half hours ‘late’ to most things.
I think it is fair to say that I lived life with a certain degree of cluelessness. A friend and I turned up to our friend’s black tie 21st late, having hurriedly changed on the train, only to be greeted by their mother, who took one look at our dishevelled state and asked us ‘would you like to get changed?’ But perhaps the most socially inappropriate example was when in true ‘four weddings and a funeral style’ the same friend and I turned up to a wedding in a beautiful, small church in a remote part of Norfolk just when the bride was about to walk up the aisle. Instead of waiting outside, we said a breathless, ‘Hi! So sorry we are late and so many congratulations!’ to the bride-to-be, and whilst my friend discreetly found a seat at the side of the church, I ran up the aisle (as the organ music was beginning to play and all the guests were looking back, hushed, expectant), and sat in one of the only places left, one reserved for close family at the front of the church.
Whilst some of this may be part and parcel of being young, there was an aspect that revealed a deeper malaise: I felt fundamentally disconnected with the world around me. I felt like a hamster in a wheel – always running, but never sure I was actually getting anywhere. Or to use another image from the animal kingdom: I was running around like a headless chicken. But at least headless chickens have the decent excuse of being dead. One of my older, wiser colleagues used to describe my life as ‘burning the candle at both ends’ as I would rush into work ‘just in time’ every morning. But I am not sure there was much light burning at all. At my most honest moments, I remember thinking that I am not actually thriving, I am merely surviving. Although I was certainly busy, I was not very happy.
To my complete shock, when I met Chris, now my husband, I discovered that there is a completely opposite approach to time keeping: arriving promptly, and leaving promptly. As you can imagine the MOST RECURRING source of arguments between Chris and I were on timekeeping. For him, it was a question of honouring the person who was hosting the event; for me – well – superficially at any rate – there wasn’t a question as I had never really given it any conscious thought.
Anyway, I am a pragmatist, so even during an argument I am always open to learning something new – especially if it looks beneficial. So I decided to change my perspective. The process of changing one’s perspective invariably involves digging into what is really going on under the surface.
Over the next few years I connected with God and lots of other wise people on this issue and realised that what was really going on for me was ‘trust’. There were so many people and situations that had so much need that I would say ‘yes’ to everything (even two or three things at the same time), because I simply didn’t ‘trust God’ that He would, and in fact already was, at work with those people and in those situations. And so began an excruciating journey of discovering why I found trust so difficult, and how I could start to trust God.
And, yes, part of this process of learning to connect deeply with who God actually is, rather than the lies I had believed about Him, became inextricably linked with a change of perspective about time. I found myself slowing down and connecting with the natural rhythms going on all the time around me.
I paused to absorb: breathtaking sunrises according to the earth’s circling on its journey round the sun; waves gently lapping on the seashore, steered by the moon circling the earth; the regular, seamless movement of seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, marked, in part, by the annual migrations of birds; and the process of an apple seed growing into an apple tree and producing apples.
To recover the glass jar analogy that I wrote more generally about in my last blog. There are many things – seeds, families, money – that can multiply, but, in this age anyway, time can’t. Time is our glass jar, in which we can only put in a certain amount of finite things. Short of discovering how to defrost Walt Disney, we all have a similar amount of hours assigned to us, and we are free to spend these hours however we like.
I started to discover that one choice available to me was to lay down my stressed, busy, fractured way of living, and step into His peaceful, sustainable and whole way of living. Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases, I could choose to enter into a life energised by His ‘unforced rhythms of grace’. I began to process with God, myself, Chris, friends and family what my life seemed to be about, and sought to enter into God’s rhythm for me that would enable my life to happen.
Here are some of many ways I have since changed my life. I sleep around seven hours each night. I wake early most mornings to exercise and spend time with God and Chris. I eat three meals a day, two of which are with my family. I connect with my children most days after school. I enjoy a full half day completely to myself each week. I enjoy some creative time each week.
We have a family day on Saturdays and a community day including having friends over for roast lunch on Sundays. My husband and I have a date night once a week, and go away together on our own twice a year. We have movie night with our children most Fridays and spend a day with my parents once a week. I spend time with close friends each week and we stay with Chris’ family (who live further away) at least three times a year, for a week at a time. We enjoy August together as a family each year.
And perhaps most significantly of all, I spend time at the end of most days reflecting on my day, giving thanks, and preparing for the next day.
As I made these changes, slowly but surely I realised something deeper was happening. I was not only discovering God’s rhythm, but I was discovering that I could be connected with God Himself. I began to experience first hand what John calls ‘remaining in Him’. Or what Paul describes as ‘being in step with the Spirit’.
And things would happen every day, spontaneous conversations, an event rearranged, or a surprise gift, where I knew that I knew that I knew that He knew me, and was gently expressing His love for me. I was not only connecting with Him, but I was beginning to receive His deep love for me. I began to realise it was all true after all – we really could be close friends. And, moreover, He had work for me to do which I never would have thought of doing, but turned out to be exactly what I felt I was designed to do.
As Paul says – celebrating the weeks and months and seasons with meals and feasts is not the end in itself, it is merely the shadow of something far greater. In other words we can regularly mark and celebrate many things but still remain fundamentally disconnected from God and the people we are celebrating with.
Doing life well in sustainable rhythm is not the end in itself. It is always pointing to something greater – a living connection with Him who is Life Himself. Maybe in those earlier years I wasn’t too dissimilar, existentially, to the state of those proverbial chickens after all.
I may still not be the best timekeeper in the world, but I have discovered that there is a sweet spot of peace and joy in life through communion with Him. To use the picture of a pendulum, whilst I do still swing outside that place of joy and peace every day, I am noticing that the swing away from Him is a lot smaller and the recovery is a lot quicker.
Not only have I become much more attentive to His daily expressions of love for me, but I am also definitely happier. I am learning to trust.
‘God has made everything beautiful in its time’. Solomon 950 BC