|A little holiday-inspired sketch, by me!|
Well I promised an intro to a series on Rest, and arriving at the end of this week, feel I'm less than qualified to write it. Truth is, I've struggled with serious fatigue for some time now, and though the general pattern has been one of improvement - THIS week has totally sucked!
Which probably just makes a re-focus on rest even more important - at least for me.
So... Here goes.
I don't know why, but I have struggled with ridiculously severe fatigue, for about as long as I can remember. A few years back, my doctor said (referring to my adrenal glands) "We don't know why. These organs just seem to fail, in some people". Seems my energy producing system has never been much chop. And as I get older, it is becoming more and more important for me to balance work, play and rest. I have kids. I have other goals and interests. And I have to work, at least sometimes. If I don't look after myself, it all tends to fall apart. When I get the balance right, I need only normal amounts of sleep, but when I don't... forget doing anything but the essentials, for a while!
So part of it is probably just my genetic inheritance; the "luck of the draw". But if I look back at the last... twenty years(?) of my life, I can see other good reasons why my "energy system" might not be in such great shape. Fact is, I have never been one to keep things "in balance". Ever. I've always tended to be either "full on", or "full off". Years of abusing body and soul in one form or another, are bound to take their toll.
In my twenties, it was the usual party craziness. In and out of love, trying every experience that came along, pretty much. In my thirties... well, by then I'd gone and gotten myself involved in a religious cult. Our life consisted of a gruelling regimen of early morning prayer-meetings, long days of work (prescribed by the "leadership"), compulsory evening worship meetings, and a requirement to be always available. No matter what. During that time, I was involved in setting up a school. Well, we didn't just set it up, we designed and wrote our own curriculum, too. Lots of things about the school were wonderful, but the demands for our availability in other areas never lessened. For a few years there, I subsisted on something like 3 or 4 hours sleep a night. And in the middle of this craziness, I got MARRIED. And started having children. Then left the cult (traumatic). Then tried to put the pieces together, whilst working, struggling in a difficult marriage, and also struggling with children who turned out to have special needs (my son has ADHD, and when he was younger, had multiple food sensitivities that required a very specialised diet.).
When my daughter was only an infant, I decided to add STUDY to the mix (are you now convinced that I am crazy??) For the next 7 years I combined family, work AND study... I have no idea how I did it, but I do know in many ways I didn't do it well! Study finished, I survived my first year of teaching in the regular system (combined with the last few units of my degree) and then took on a major home renovation. Then we moved house. It didn't go smoothly, and though we had the kids enrolled in their new school, there was no house to rent where we had planned to be. I drove them one hour each way, for 6 months until we finally found a home to buy. I was still finishing renovations... so there were many days when I had a two hour round trip in the morning, then again in the afternoon (at one stage I actually developed tendonitis in my accelerator foot!) We found a home - but it also needed major renovations. We got the (very) bare essentials done (I was project manager and chief demolisher!) and moved in.
Mixed up in all I have related, we also experienced the death of our first child in a drowning accident, and just two years ago (not long after the kids had started at their new school) the death of my father. My "difficult marriage" finally came to an end just over a year ago (although the details of that are still being slowly worked out). If you look at on of those "life stress scales", I had probably been OFF the scale, for years. So it's not surprising that after we moved, I completely crashed.
I. just. couldn't. do. any. more.
I'd been limping along almost forever, really. I was doing sooo much - but whenever I stopped, would find myself almost unable to function - I was so exhausted. I would come home from church on Sunday and just sleep for hours. I would visit my parents, and end up asleep on their lounge. There were days when it was just sooo hard to function normally. Only the pressure of deadlines and work commitments kept me going. My internal reserves were long gone. As a result, once I stopped - I REALLY stopped. And that turned out to be the best thing I had done in a very long time.
I decided not to look for work, for "a couple of months", just to give myself time to recoup some energy, following all the moving stress. I think I spent most of those first months, just sleeping. The "couple of months" off work stretched into a bit over a year. I gradually found myself sleeping more normally, and began to tackle the garden, and bits and pieces of renovation work.
I loved the hours of gardening. It was therapeutic for body and spirit. Hours spent digging over ground, slowly removing grass and weeds, mulching, planting... were hours where my mind was free to wander, and for the first time in decades, I found myself sifting, randomly and without any special intent, through my own thoughts, dreams, struggles, pains and pleasures... For the first time (I think, ever) I stepped back from the pressures of "life" pushing me in every direction, and began to choose my direction for myself. I didn't pray a great deal. But I there were definitely times when I was more sensitive to the "inner promptings" that I believe came from God. And those weren't the times when I was immersed in prayer or religious observance. They were just times when I was finally still enough to hear.
I've been working again, just bits and pieces, for the better part of a year. I'm still keeping it part time and casual, though. And I enjoy the days I work. I think I'm almost at the stage where I could handle a block of full-time teaching if it came up. During the January school holidays, I really rested. Not out of exhaustion, but an actual holiday. Not a total, broken down, grinding halt, but actual relaxation. (I wrote about it a little, here). And that feeling of peace and relaxation was something that stayed with me, even though I was working at various things, for weeks. I was doing things restfully - and what a difference!
My brother, Josh (who I hope you'll hear from later in this series), has often spoken about "rest" being something holy. And I agree with him. I'm not talking about observing a particular day of rest or anything like that (though if that is the rhythm you choose to keep, it is a good thing). To me, "Rest" is about creating space. Space just to be. Space from "demands" on your time, allegiance, heart, and energy. Space to find your own centre, and to make your own choices. For the theologically/philosophically inclined, I think rest and freedom are inextricably linked. And it makes sense to me that a God who is about love and freedom - NOT coercion or control, would call it holy.