There is a rare moment of evening peace in the house as Dave has taken the kids to their trampoline lesson. My sabbatical is drawing to a close, just two weeks left before I shift gear – not back to work but six weeks off with the kids. It is a gentle way back into work moving from this rich me time, to a family focused time and then in September the onslaught of work.
I remember back in January sitting with a friend talking about my approaching sabbatical and spontaneously bursting into anxious tears, unable to articulate their source. But as I stepped into this space, it was as if those fears were simply left behind and I have felt myself expand, become more substantial. I have spent more time inhabiting the place that I am in rather than mentally juggling two, or three, places, people, emotions at a time.
I see time (a weird idiosyncratic gift/curse my mother also has) in terms of shape, colour, direction – in an instant I can visualise the days, weeks, months between now and my return to work, or Christmas, or Easter, or even next summer! The gift is that it makes me an exceptionally good planner, the curse is that the off button is hard to find. But I have been working at the off button, at inhabiting this present moment through painting, writing, prayer, and really being with family and friends, and I have begun to feel the texture of the time that I am in.
I thought I might read a lot, but in fact I have written a lot. I have met people, gone to places, listened and experienced and then I have spent days reflecting and writing in a very introvert fashion for extrovert me! It has felt indulgent; spending time on the shape of a sentence, the choice of a word, simply for my own creative satisfaction. But it has also opened up a creative space in me that I had long ago forgotten.
It has also been a very full time, not busy (that implies a rushing around that I haven’t felt) rather I feel as if I have been sitting down at a feast of experiences, with so many different flavours to savour and enjoy, rather than my usual place, rushing around in the kitchen cooking it all up for everyone else! But of course, now, I begin to think about how I might recreate that dish, add a bit of that spice that was so tasty, emulate that particularly good service that I received; mentally I am moving back from receiver to giver, from guest to host, wanting to take with me all that I have learnt and cook it up in my own kitchen.
And therein lies the tension as I return to work; I long for a better balance with more me time (and more family time) but at the same time I have a huge desire to bring back some of the richness of this time away, with new ideas, new projects etc. to my work. My supervisor once wisely said to me that what is tough in ministry is not discerning between a good and a bad idea, but that frequently there are lots of wonderful ideas, important things we would love to do, it is that we have to let go of good ideas.
I have, though, inherited my parents’ high energy levels and robust health both of which lull me into the false illusion that I am indeed superwoman and that I can do it all. Letting go of a good idea is like pulling teeth as far I am concerned, it is extremely difficult for me to do! But, how ever painful it is, I may indeed need to pull a few teeth!
I also, like many, am prone to turning my faith into a morality code rather than God’s gracious gift. I read a wonderful quote recently: ‘God does not love you because you are good, God loves you because God is good’ . The underlying basis of my hyper activity can be, if I am not careful, a desire to make myself good rather than trust in God’s goodness. That is neither healthy for me (spiritually or physically) nor a good role model for those young Christians around me.
Dave always laughs that me slowing down is everyone else’s ‘normal’ speed – so maybe it’s time for a bit of normality!