Step Away from the List

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Soaring not Striving

How do you feel when you ask someone to do something and they reply:

I’m just….

For me – it is a start of a sentence that I really dislike hearing. It basically says “You’re not as important as this…..”

And yet those two words find themselves at the start of my replies far too often – even when I am talking to myself!

Child: “Mum are you coming through so we can start the film?”   

Me: I’m just wiping the table.

Me: Can you come down to lay the table? 

Child: I’ll just finish the page.

Me to self: You’re getting a bit frantic about this, take a break and come back to it. 

My reply to self: I’ll just finish this bit.

And the worse thing is that I’m just….is rarely followed by the truth. I SAY “I’ll just wipe the table”, but in all truth I am planning to wipe the table, sweep the floor and make myself a cup of tea!  My child SAYS “I’ll just finish the page” but what they really mean is “I’ll get to a good bit to stop”.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s often absolutely appropriate to ask someone to wait while you finish something – but there is a way to say it that makes it clear that you value them, that you are ready to obey (i.e. when we have asked our children to do something) or to come right now if that is what is really needed, and that is honest and realistic about what you are planning to do.

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I’ve just got one or two things on my list – won’t be a moment!

There is no just!

You are either coming or you are not coming. You are either ready or not.

(Sounds a bit like a game of Hide and Seek doesn’t it?!)

Otherwise not only are we not being honest with others we are probably not being very honest with ourselves. In my case at any rate, a day full of “I’ll just ….” should act as an alarm bell that I am trying to juggle too many things. In the words of my last post – that drips are dripping all over the place. That the lists are taking over!

Before we go on let’s be clear:

Lists are great – I like lists!

BUT..

I am realising that perhaps they should come with a warning. Certainly in my case anyway – because if I am not careful I quickly let them dominate my life.
Let me explain:
I make a list so I don’t have to rehearse everything over and over in my mind. The list is an enclosure where a job can be kept until I get to it without the risk of it running away!

Note to self: Just because a job exists / has come to mind does NOT mean it has to go on the list! Some jobs are better running free!

But then I go on going over and over it in my mind. I go over what I have got done from the list, what I haven’t got done from it and what I need to add to it. So I end up emotionally ‘paying’ for each item on the list at least twice. Worse than that I think the people close to us can see the list in our eyes – see us scanning it as we ‘listen’ to them.

Our lists become like the ring in The Lord of the Rings – we want to turn them over in our minds, fiddle with them, look at them and master them. But we all know that the ring can’t be mastered!

OK so that is a bit dramatic – but you get my point.

Apologies if you have never read The Lord of the Rings and have no idea what I am talking about!

I’m not suggesting throwing our lists into the fire of Mount Doom – I think I would find that harder than Frodo did! But I do think we need to regularly put them down and walk away. Deliberately leaving things undone, deliberately ignoring their calls to us. Like Bilbo we need to give them up of our own free will to free us from their dominion over us. When we try to become The Lord of the Lists, the Lists rule the day. But when we regularly put them to one side and treat them as the suggestions on scraps of paper they are rather than the Holy Grail of our day – well then their power over us wains.

So stop constantly doing just one more thing! Stop chasing the end of the list like a dog chasing its tail.

Let’s see who is boss today!

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Drips and Jars

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Soaring without Striving

One way I explain to my children why I just can’t listen properly to what they are trying to tell me –

– and I mean about Pokemon or Beast Quest not life threatening emergencies!

is to explain that my head and heart are already full and anything else poured in is just going to pour over the top and make a mess!

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It seems to be a helpful image for everyone concerned.

The question I have recently been asking myself is what is hanging around in the jug to make it so full?

Often it is quite reasonably the actual task / conversation I am having already involved in. Here the lesson is quite simply about interrupting; pausing before launching to check if I am clearly otherwise engaged.

But sometimes my fullness is less obvious to them, and in fact to me. I am basically interrupting myself all the time – wantonly adding more to the already full – oblivious to the growing puddle around me. While this self-inflicted mess seems to be acceptable for a while, the slightest drop any one else tries to add in is totally intolerable and is given short shrift.

And so I have decided to get better at either emptying my jars as I go along, or screwing on a lid and leaving it elsewhere. It is a similar concept to my brain receptionist from a while ago, but it seems to be sitting within a more practical reach for me to access helpfully.

To give some examples..

As I drove back from a meeting yesterday evening I  prayed about the things mentioned, mentally noted the three things I would type up and then turned the jar upside down.

Today when the All or Nothing wanted to play with me, I screwed the lid on the jar I had been filling, and got out a new one to enjoy filling with him.

I have one jar at the moment which is quite exciting and pressing and unknown and has a tendency to keep on dripping all the time – in other words it presses in on my consciousness regularly. So here I need to be really careful that I don’t let it drip into whatever I am meant to be concentrating on! Otherwise, before I know it drips from all sorts of places are all filling the same container and I suddenly have a bath tub full of water and just need to let the plug out!

No idea if this makes sense to anyone else, but the drips thing seems to have stuck in my imagination.

Another helpful image has been the 20% / 80% one. Which states that we generally get 80% of a job done in the first 20% of the time we give it. To get the last 20% takes a really disproportionate amount of time. So we need to be really choosy in what we decide to take beyond 80% in a day. We need to identify the tasks that we are really happy to just get to 80% on and then totally turn off all drips from that source. It is not an unfinished task, incomplete, failed or inadequate – it is just not a 100% task. It can have a clear tick next to it despite ‘only’ being 80% because that is all it needed to be. In the course of the day you might even have to downgrade tasks to 70% because as you weigh things up that is all it is going to get / all they need as compared to something else that has cropped up. The thing is that those tasks are just as much done as the odd 100% task we achieve.

It seems so simple – possibly even lazy – to stop at 80%! But actually, keeping on doing something can sometimes just be the easier option. Having the discipline to stop and shifting myself to do the next thing well and with full attention takes more effort.

Lord, please help me to be better at giving the tasks, and more importantly the people around me my full attention for the right amount of time and to leave what I don’t get to, haven’t managed or just have to abandon in your hands. Help me to discern where that final 20%, that extra work / time is valuable and a good investment and where it is just pride or inertia. That you Lord, Amen.

Healing

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Soaring not Striving

So is this really healing that is happening in my life?

Well, certainly God is doing a work in my heart, in my deepest place of me-ish-ness, which has enabled me to live in a place of peace and rest, stillness and smiles that I have never inhabited before.

As a result my life is not characterised by hiding away in fear – looking around nervously for escape routes. I am no longer living in a state of flight or fight mode, phobic of waking up to face another scary day in which I wouldn’t be good enough and in which others wouldn’t be able to make up for my failures.

Yes, life is full of mess – but now I can let messy people into the mess and messily love them there. And when your aim is to love, failure is taken out of the equation. And when failure is taken out of the equation a lot of the fear goes. And when the fear goes my need to be in control decreases. In an agenda of love rather than fear it is much easier to manage my need for order. Previously when fear had snatched the reins of my life every detail of disorder pained, distracted and tired me. When love, in the context of grace, is your aim then giving the situation to God and seeing where he takes it (5 loaves and fish come to mind) is simply much more peaceful.

In these words from the hymn Blessed Assurance:

“Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my saviour am happy and blessed….”

When I try to give people me and my perfect handling of a scenario – a set piece as it were – then I am full of fear and tighten my grip on whatever I am doing. When I aim to give love I seem to be able to go with the flow (all be it in a very me-ish way!).

A good spell before was a season in which I managed to juggle everything really well – keeping on top of things and feeling relatively in control. But of course there always came a time when I dropped a ball – for whatever reason. Even when I felt I was winning there was always a sense that I was only just outrunning a monster that would eventually catch up with me. And when he did I would drop everything and hide.

Now the monster and I are jogging partners! I have stopped trying to outrun life.

If life is like a trip from the laundry basket to the washing machine – arms slightly too full and a trail of dirty socks and pants left behind you – I have stopped feeling the need to bend down while my arms are still overflowing with washing and pick up everything along the way.

The secret of my well-ness is not that I am now better at coping, but that life doesn’t constantly feel like something that needs to be coped with. I am not chasing after an equilibrium at the end of my to do list that simply doesn’t exist.

This means that not feeling on top of things has become normal and acceptable! A crazy day or set of unusual challenges does not cost me the emotional fortune it would have previously. It doesn’t deplete me or send me into a panic. I don’t pay for it the next day, nor the next. I process it as I go along, let go of things when my hands get too full and avoid looking back over my shoulder.

I am still me and I need to apply the wisdom I have gained over the years in managing my emotional energies, No doubt there is much still to learn and many things that will still manage to floor me.

BUT something has changed. In one sense virtually overnight, but in another sense very slowly over years and years of healing since our son’s death [and in all probability just the lifelong struggle of being a broken me in a broken world].

Over the past 12 years I have prayed and read and planned and processed. I have written and prayed and learned; reflected and prayed some more. I have read about grief and depression, anxiety and fear, contentment and trust and while I have learned much these lessons have hovered slightly out of easy reach.

But just recently I have learned – and when I say learned I don’t mean intellectually, but deep in the very depths of who I am – the very simple and yet profoundly wonderful truth that God is completely good – not just in the abstract – but personally completely good to me and that my heart is truly safe with him. I am completely loved, with no expectations on me whatsoever. I am just loved – plain and simple.

And all those other lessons which seem to have been stored away in some sort of very hard to access holding area seem to have poured into my HQ like marbles clunking noisily, but pleasingly, one by one through a funnel in a marble run.

Who knows what will happen as the winter continues and the sunshine of summer is still far off – but I do think there has been a shift in my mental health and it is linked to my trust in God. “You will keep her in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because she trusts in you.”

Basically I am not so afraid of life any more – it is liked I have finally turned on the light and seen that the shadow lurking in the corner is not the menacing beast that I thought it was, but just a coat on a chair casting a funny shadow. And take away the fear and much of the urgency, perfectionism and panic goes with it – because the realities of life are no longer the enemy. Take away the perfectionism and the constant fight with life and the anger goes. Take all of that away; and failure and human error – both yours and other people’s – become acceptable, unsurprising and non-threatening. Take all that away and life is a LOT less tiring. And before you know it love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control find some space to grow.

Phew – that was a bit of a … not a rant, but the positive version of a rant – a rave perhaps? Thanks for putting up with that – it was good to put it down.

Church Tent-sions

As my regular readers will know, my recent focus in this blog has been on my mental health and parenting.

But what of church life?

The sad truth is that the congregations of the churches where my husband in the vicar are dwindling. The rotas and committees and structures are slowly collapsing.

If our churches were tents – this is what they would look like:

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So what’s gone wrong?  

Well of course that’s a huge question with lots of different answers. It is also a question that I care passionately about, that has massive implications for our ministry and our family, but that I have little structural ‘right’ to comment on / have an opinion on amongst those with the power to do anything about it.

Which means I’m going to tell you all about it and then I can at least imagine that someone is listening!

So here’s what I think…

– or rather what I feel as it is more of a splurge than anything else:.

Over the past (several???) hundred years the central pole holding up  our tent (i.e. the visible church) has been cultural religiousity; and for a long time this pillar of religion has done a ‘good’ job of holding things up – and an even better job of disguising the spiritual reality.

In our lifetime, however, it has shrunk and crumbled dramatically (although at the same time imperceptibly) – and today we ‘suddenly’ find ourselves standing in a tent being held up by the tallest person’s head.

Why suddenly? Because, whilst the societal norm of going to church twice a Sunday and giving to the church regularly (if not necessarily cheerfully) is long gone, the residual ‘benefits’ of that have lasted much longer. The pole has gone on functioning relatively ‘well’ whilst those residual effects have remained, masking the structural decay going on behind the scenes. For a long time there has been a large and active generation of people who grew up in a strongly religious culture and for whom it was still their norm. In addition their children were still quite heavily influenced by the culture their parents had grown up in – all be it a bit diluted by their own cultural norms. Christmas and Easter, harvest, remembrance, baptisms and confirmations still drew a crowd and filled the coffers and gave us a sense of strength and purpose.  There was still a sense of connection with church (if not commitment and belonging) that kept people giving – if not on a Sunday morning, or in a regular way – at least at the church fund raisers.

But it was just a matter of time. Now we two generations on from that and it is the influence of great-grandparent’s that we are relying on – an influence that is inevitably diluted by the generational gap and which is competing with new cultural norms that are increasingly distant from even the most nominal Christianity. Not only does the average person not have much of a sense of connection to the church, but they are more and more likely to find its teaching and existence at best alien and at worse offensive.

At the same time the stalwarts are struggling – in so many ways. Their numbers, health and strength are diminishing. They are at ‘best’ very discouraged, and at worst increasingly ashamed of the cultural norms they used to cherish and confused as to what they should be holding on to and what they can let go of.  

Today it is as though in each of our tents there is an ever decreasing team of people left desperately holding their hands up high to stop the tent collapsing completely. Which is a scary, tiring, heartbreaking job! But one that it is very hard to stop doing. No one will change or move a muscle in fear that the whole thing will collapse. The idea of those of us remaining gathering in just one tent is not to be contemplated. So the plan seems to be for everyone to keep going until they can’t keep going. And who knows what then?

I thought that what these tents needed was a better tent pole. A gospel pole. But it has been rejected. It has been sidelined to the bits that ‘don’t matter’ (small groups, evangelism, school’s work…) Even there in the corner of visible church life the gospel is unwelcome to those who control the frame of the tent. Key holder-uppers have abandoned their post and those who remain are even more antagonistic, even more committed to their ever decreasing pole of religion.

And so we have a very saggy visible church!

And who gets the blame? That dangerous gospel pole and those dreadful people who insisted on trying to strengthen the church with it.    

So what shall I do? Pray and love and trust. Repent and serve faithfully, hand over each betrayal, each thwarted opportunity, and of course if all else fails – just smile and wave!

Dear God, I can’t imagine what sadness our church must bring you. It is not a pretty picture – and I’m talking about the lack of numbers, and money, but the lack of love and unity. I’m sorry for my part in its ugliness. For my impatience and lack of love, for my arrogance and for my lack of trust and prayer. I’ve been sighing over this in despair rather than breathing in your strength and breathing out my need to fix it all. I have been testing you in my heart by not trusting you in my heart. I have been cross and unloving and ill at ease. I have been panicking rather than praying, accusing rather than loving. May there always be a light in my eyes and a smile on my lips because of you! Help me Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.       

 

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Exploring Life Post Depression

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Soaring not Striving

Before I begin, please let me apologise for the reduced and sporadic nature of my posts recently. In the past this has often been linked to a low spell in my life – happily, on this occasion, it is not my low mood squashing my musings, but various commitments linked to a possible new venture the NTV and I are considering for us a family. 

Returning to the matter in hand….

I recently published a post entitled: ‘Post Depression?’

This sat nicely with me as a handle for a blog post given previous references to post natal depression and post primary depression – but is there more to it than a nifty link?

Is there really such a thing as life post depression? Mental illness is nothing if it isn’t complicated, multifaceted and a bit of a mystery – even to the people with really big brains. Can you really recover from it as you would pneumonia or a broken leg? Come to think of it even physical injuries and diseases often leave their mark, a risk of return, a vulnerability – how much less confident can we be that someone’s depression can be ‘all better’?

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Part of the difficulty, as I mentioned above, is that because we don’t really understand the various dynamics at play it is hard to know if they have all been dealt with, and if so how permanent, how resilient that ‘dealing with’ will be. It puts me in mind of the phrase ‘herding cats’.

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It’s like trying to track down and imprison a vast criminal gang of brain villains without knowing exactly how big the gang is, and who the master mind behind it all is.

Let’s start with the usual suspects – brain chemicals and hormones – and send a highly effective task force with an excellent success rate to bring them to justice.

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In that task force we have anti-depressants, beta blockers, vitamins, light therapy, even good sleep and diet……and they do their job well. Thanks to them the physical elements of my struggles are in the main part safely behind bars.

They are not beyond the need for surveillance – I imagine they are pretty handy with a lock pick, rather talented at conning the guards and will almost definitely still have some links and influence with the rest of the gang – but that arm of the gang has basically been neutralised.

But that alone doesn’t make me eligible for a sticker.

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Sadly this gang of brain villains is much bigger than the likes of hormones, chemicals and heart rates. In fact I am pretty convinced that while they are well known to the law they are neither the scariest members of the gang, nor the master criminals behind it all.

And it is the other members of this criminal gang who have proved far more slippery. For one thing they are much harder to identify, they are master of disguises and brilliant at camouflage, disappearing into the shadows.

This makes the wanted posters all too vague!

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So who are these villains, and who can possibly hope to track them down? Well stay tuned…..

Taking a deep breath

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Soaring not Striving

I find myself sighing less these days. And when I say sighing I don’t mean the nicer varieties – sighing in satisfaction, or relief, but rather the ‘hear we go again’ variety.

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Instead I find myself taking a deep, slow breath which ends with a smile – a proper inside to outside smile.

What’s the difference? Well I came up with the following this morning:

A sigh gives up, a breath draws in and gives over.

A thought which made me smile some more!