Silencing the silent to do list

Soaring without striving

Do you ever feel that you are being shouted at as you walk around your house? And I’m not talking about the children, but rather the clutter. Accused, taunted even, by an ever growing pile of miscellaneous papers or a bag of old books. It felt so good to clear those shelves – but the fact that they are still blocking the corridor 6 months later is less satisfying! It’s exhausting and terribly lonely. It’s like living with an invisible bully that only you can see and hear constantly insulting you, badgering you, assaulting you in your own home simply because there is more stuff in your life than time, space and energy to manage it all.

This phenomenon has been called the silent to do list. Silent because we are talking about inanimate objects and tasks that don’t tend to make it onto our written lists of things to do. No, that would be far too decent for these sneaky tasks. They would rather ambush you when you are already juggling three other tasks and have no capacity to filter, break the task into do-able junks, or even scribble it on a list. They defy quick wins and are experts in pushing you into the realm of catastrophe and hyperbole. And even if you do manage to get them onto a list they are the worst sort of tasks that just sit there clogging it up, having to be transferred from list to list, delighted that they can now jeer at you in surround sound – not only by their irksome physical presence, but now from right within the heart of your very defence strategy against them – the list!

One way to shut these tasks up is minimalism. Less stuff = less noise. Clear surfaces and corridors are much better at staying clear than cluttered ones. Want to stop all the clothes that you never wear shouting at you every time you open your wardrobe? Get rid of them.

And in one sense I have no argument with that.

But if we are not careful we might just be giving them another accusation to hurl at us. “If you were a better ‘minimalist’ I wouldn’t even be here. Pity you have failed at that too. Just imagine if I wasn’t here cluttering up your corridors! Oh well”

I am reminded of the shrieking portrait of Walburga Black in 12 Grimmauld Place.

Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers–

And I am not going to put up with it. This is my house and my family’s house and yes – life is more full of stuff than time and space and energy to manage it all – AND THAT’S OK. Would I like to head in the direction of being more discerning about what I let into our house to join the ever growing mound of ‘this needs managing’ – yes. Do I like it when a system works and flows and puts an end to certain bottle necks? You bet I do. Will I be relieved when the charity shops open up again so I can shift some of the bags – of course.

But I also want to have a box of Easter bits and bobs ready to use each year and so I choose to embrace the inevitable weeks of having that box clogging up my room as things come out of it, get used and then go back into it.

If I am deliberate in my listening perhaps I could draw the curtain on the jeers of the ‘to do’ and instead hear the box of baby clothes calling to me – “We are so blessed to have the Bonus Feature. She’s doing so well, she’s growing out of clothes like there’s no tomorrow – but what love and fun was had while she wore these.” I can choose not to go through the choices I have to make about the box every time I walk past it – I know the options – selling them; giving them away; or putting them back up in the loft in case there is a bonus bonus feature. None of those options is going to be hard to do, but the information / time / opportunity isn’t available right now to make that decision. Yes the box represents a decision and a job I haven’t sorted yet, but it also means that the cupboards and drawers in her room are working well and are easy to manage and keep on top of. Plus I actually needed something from it the other day and was very relieved we hadn’t got rid of it all yet.

I guess what I am saying is that it is good to recognise the noise of the list, it is a great way to help those we live we see the toll these piles can take on us. But let’s be kind to ourselves. There’s going to be stuff and there’s going to be piles and there are going to be moments of victory – how huge is my corridor going to feel when the boxes are gone!!! – and there is going to be defeat – what will move into their place and how quickly? And it’s going to be okay.


To forgive is to carry

I read this morning that the Hebrew word to forgive is literally to carry – at least it is in Exodus 32:32. This struck a deep chord with me. To forgive is indeed burdensome. When we forgive we carry the weight of an offense against us on our own shoulders. To cancel a debt is not to magically balance the books with no cost to anyone. No – to forgive a debt means to take on, to carry the cost yourself.

This is helpful imagery because it helps me to see why I find forgiveness costly and almost physically demanding. It is a visceral experience.

It is also imagery that sends me straight to the cross where the burden of my sin was borne by Jesus. Jesus who calls me to come to him in my state of burden and find rest.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Alan Jackson

My ‘Free From’ Day


If you have ever frequented the Free From aisle of your local supermarket you will have noticed that what sets it apart from the others is that the labelling of each item puts a huge amount of emphasis on what it does NOT contain. It’s a genius tag for the aisle – it isn’t that the food is regrettably, but necessarily devoid of x, y, or z, but rather it is free from such constraints, it has no need of them whatsoever and as a consequence you are free to enjoy it.

Various things have prompted me recently to consider how I can better sabbath – not really a verb, but let’s run with it – and I am currently trialling a Free From approach.

The impression I have of a traditional sabbath…

– by which I mean the Sundays experienced by the likes of Anne of Green Gables, the March girls or the Bennet sisters as opposed to an orthodox Jewish sabbath –

– is of a ‘Devoid Of’ kind of approach. The emphasis, in my imagination, is on what was not allowed. A day devoid of the elements that would normally make a day pleasant, and instead filled with rather second rate substitutions. In contrast, I am aiming at the more appealing idea of a Free From day.

As a mum of 4 children and a wife there are many things that my day can not be free from. A weekly sabbath is not going to look like a retreat or a spa day. But it can look different to the other 6 days of the week. Previously I have always focused on the elements of my day that I can’t be free from.

If my day is a shopping trolley and a sabbath day is an empty shopping trolley then I am always going to fail. There are always going to be items that automatically appear in my trolley, and there will always be items that get put into my shopping trolley by others when I am not looking.

So I have abandoned the idea of an empty trolley, and identified the things that I can take responsibility for keeping my trolley Free From. For me those things are:

  • Anything to do with laundry – putting it in the machine, taking it out, hanging it up to dry, moving it to the airing cupboard, folding it, giving it to the relevant person and thinking/worrying about.
  • Looking at my Email Inbox
  • Listening to the news
  • Shopping – including mulling over and researching possible new purchases, and anything to do with meal planning or picking up things we have run out of or adding things to my online food order.
  • Meeting up with people or going out and about. This in turn frees me up from having to get the BF in the car, pack the nappy bag, get my timings right, being presented with things I could buy and worrying over what the person I met up with thought of me and whether I did a good job.
  • My phone – it isn’t totally banned – but it stays in my room and isn’t a constant part of my day.
  • Cooking – we have something from the freezer.

Which basically removes a massive number of choices from my day and a lot of the multi-tasking/juggling/time pressure and therefore immediately makes my day mentally much quieter and more restful.

Interestingly, by not doing these things for a day, it has also helped me to see that I do accomplish things within my week. In order to make my sabbath a Free From day I have planned and broken down some of these tasks a little and so I am much more aware of achieving and completing tasks rather than it all rolling into one unending blob of not quite managing. By not ‘working’ on my sabbath day I am seeing the value of the work I do throughout the week and feel more satisfaction and motivation around it.

All of which (with the help of the NTV) leaves me free to put a few treats into my trolley: a nice walk, consciously choosing something nice to wear, brain space to enjoy playing with the BF, to read and to pray. To consciously leave things in God’s hand and not take on every burden that flits into my mind.

In terms of the other stuff in my trolley – I trust that God will give me the love and strength I need to be who he has called me to be. After all nothing is getting into that trolley without his approval – so I’ll leave that job with him. So when there was a spillage and a stain incident on my recent sabbath of course I put the item to soak. BUT it was much less stressful because I didn’t let that be the first domino in a chain of moving all the rest of the washing on a stage. In other words it is right to help the ox out of the ditch! I doubt that my ox will fall into a ditch (given that I do not have an ox, or indeed a ditch) but when the equivalent happens of course I will jump into action. BUT I won’t then phone up someone and hire them to fill in the ditch, wash the ox, mend all the fences and fill in a report on how awful I was to let the ox fall into the ditch.

As well as my Free From approach I have also cut my sabbath free from family day – Saturday and church family day – Sunday. However, on those days I do want to be intentionally available to my husband, my children and my church family over those two days and so am applying an element of the Free From approach to those days too. Although personally my ideal ‘day off’ would tend towards being alone in a silent white room I do realise that an important element of sabbath is gathering with God’s people. And so I have chosen to have my personal sabbath on the day we have our church prayer lunch. In my situation this a low maintenance, but fellowship-rich experience of being church together.

Is this the answer to all questions about the sabbath? No way! It is a very messy, and possibly slightly ‘dodgy’ take on the whole matter. There is a lot that is not ideal and possibly even wrong in this plan. For example – I think maybe the very phrase ‘my personal sabbath’ is some sort of oxymoron or at least the sort of statement that makes wise people’s alarm bells start ringing.

Is it a way forward for everyone? No way! I can only do this because I don’t go out to paid work during the week and have a husband who works from home with some element of control over the timings in his day. And even in my particular circumstances it is very much a season.

But I believe that God calls us to sabbath rest, to avoid one day running into another without a change in pace or tone, to carve out some brain space and life space to allow our thoughts and hearts to dwell on him and rest on him and to be intentional in laying down our work as a recognition of our reliance on him and a testimony to who we are in him. And I believe that in the Lord’s mercy I have made some progress in this by coming at it from a slightly different angle. And I look forward to letting you know how it goes.

Soaring not Striving

Once again I fell for it!

What could possibly go wrong?

It happens every time. I have a moment of feeling energetic and creative and I search online for a homemade, sensory play experience for the Bonus Feature. As things always do in the land of blog it all looked very straightforward – cornflour, water, food colouring and hey presto edible finger paint.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, I now have a blue child, a kitchen that looks even more chaotic than usual, and some jelly like paint I’m not sure I can face using again – and did I mention that my child is blue! Not only that, but in an ironic turn of events, to bring us all down from this rather overwhelming experience, she is now watching telly and eating a biscuit – something that I’m sure Blog Mum never resorts to. And worst of all The Bonus Feature ended up crying miserably either because of the mess I had made of the whole thing, or the pressure I then put on her to enjoy it!

But let’s end on the positives. I am relatively confident that the BF hasn’t been scarred for life by the experience and that she will return to her original colour eventually. The All or Nothing and I had fun researching it and then making it; and last but not least, the whole fiasco did fill a lockdown hour or two – which in itself has got to count for something.

And there’s always colourful spaghetti worms to make tomorrow! What could possibly go wrong – after all she’s already blue.

Coming soon is a more thought provoking post taking a look at sabbath – but laughing with you about this has been a healthy alternative to crying – thank you!

The Bonus Feature

Soaring not Striving

Hello from Lockdown!

Please forgive the formatting – not that that has ever been a strong point of mine – but it has been so long since I have done this that they have changed all the rules.

So I announced a period of radio silence a couple of years ago now. Did I think it would last this long? Probably not. However, as ‘things going on for a bit longer than we initially anticipated’ has been a bit of theme for all of us lately, I am sure you will understand.

But while Covid has certainly depleted my keyboard time…

I was going to say my screen time – but then I realised that was so NOT the case!

…there is a much happier reason for my being otherwise engaged lately and I can now announce that the main reason for my radio silence has been the arrival of the newest member of our family – our fifth child, and our second daughter – The Bonus Feature.

Which calls for a bit of a shake up of family names. My darling big girl who I have previously referred to as The One and Only Daughter will henceforth be known as The Eldest. The All or Nothing is still very much the All or Nothing, but The Court Jester will now be known as The Introvert. Our darling Gift has now been at home with Lord for nearly 15 years. No Tea Vicar (N.T.V.) still fits my husband down to a t – although TV.V. would suit equally well at the moment as he spends much of his time putting together broadcasts and appearing on our TV screen for what passes as church these days.

Me – I think I could best be described right now as a knotted tangle and a bundle of nerves (channeling my inner Mrs Bennet) – but that is for another Post!

With friends like these….

Soaring not striving

I’ve recently experienced one of those tricky quiet time patches when you’ve come to the end of one system / set of notes and have lacked the discipline to make a decision and get on with something else.

Mind The Gap – JUST Lincolnshire

I had been using the audio bible in a year, and before that Tim Keller’s books on Psalms and Proverbs. I felt it was time to just read the bible freestyle, but I also knew I needed someone to tell me what to read each day. So for now – thanks to a suggestion from a friend – I am using the C of E daily lectionary readings and have jumped into the end of Genesis.

Which brings me to my point – with friends like these who needs enemies….

Joseph has just asked Pharaoh for permission to leave Egypt to bury his father and Pharaoh says:

6  ….“Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”

So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.

This was indeed a season when God’s people experienced huge favour from unbelievers – but it was only a season. Obviously a number of years passed – but just over the page in our bibles we find a very different story.

Far from honouring their fathers with them at the end of long lives they are killing their sons at birth.

Moses makes a request to Pharaoh for permission to go and fulfil what the Lord requires of his people and Pharaoh says..

Learning The Art Of Saying No

When the Israelites finally do leave they are not accompanied by officials nor escorted by chariots and horsemen – but rather hounded for their lives.

The only similarity we find is that once again it is indeed a very large company that left – because the Lord, unlike the culture we live in – is faithful!

For quite a long time the churches in our country – in particular in rural communities like the one where I live – experienced the favour of the culture around them. Even after active engagement (even if only cultural in its nature) died out they were still pleased to have us around and to rub shoulders with us in fund raising and village life. After all there was still a lot of overlap in beliefs. We didn’t pose a threat to their lifestyles, but rather were good for village life, we could mutually support each others’ endeavours. Like the Israelites in Joseph’s time, and for a season after Joseph’s death – the two cultures got along pretty happily. It was easy to forget that we were aliens and strangers in the land. It was also easy to forget that throughout history and around the world this has only ever been an exception to normal Christian experience.  

But that isn’t the case now! While it certainly isn’t our numbers that threatens the nation around us we are not welcome guests anymore.

It wasn’t sudden, and it has happened in many of our congregation members’ lifetimes. It hasn’t been easy – it has coincided with clergy numbers going down and church buildings being closed. They have experienced the shift from being well integrated, to being sidelined and now feel on the verge of being ostracised – what with this new vicar (9 years in) drawing gospel lines in the sand and everything.

Lines that need to be drawn, but that reveal the drift. After all – our churches had walked so companionably with the culture around them for so long, it was very natural to go on adjusting their pace and direction to keep in step with their erstwhile travelling companions. But how out of step that has left us with the Spirit?      

My prayer is that God will open his people’s eyes to see the changes we are currently experiencing as part of our journey forward into God’s promises for his people. That we won’t grumble in the desert and long to go back to Egypt, but step out at his pace, along his way, trusting in his faithfulness.  

Did somebody say just eat?

Just Eat reports 500 millionth UK order

When it comes to spending time with God, reading his word and praying, we often play around with terms like duty and delight. We know it ‘should’ be a delight; indeed we know it can be a delight. However, the reality is that we often require a good dose of discipline and perseverance to habitually meet with our Lord.  We are well aware that if we waited for it to be a felt / anticipated delight before we got going we could be waiting a long time. On the other hand, if we get on with our ‘duty’, in God’s kindness we can eventually find ourselves tasting at least in part of the delights on offer.

But maybe it is simpler than that. Maybe we just need to do it because we know we need to. Like eating. Eating can indeed be a delight…

Yummy Food Ideas For Kids - Kids Love WHAT

It is also a duty – when we don’t feel we can spare the time / effort we do our duty by our bodies by giving them what they need to keep them going.

I’m struggling at the moment to spend regular time with the Lord. I’m no where near duty let alone delight – but I do know that I need my Lord. So I’ll nibble away at the word of God, and I’ll open my mouth to speak to my Father even if I am unsure of what I can possibly utter. And that’s OK – because he’s got me – he delights in me, and will do his ‘duty’ (massive inverted commas) by me in Christ Jesus.

As I heard in a talk this week: Keep it simple, keep it real and keep it going.

And by the grace of God I will.

Scanning for help

A while ago I wrote the following…

A prayer to be kept in perfect peace
Stay my mind on you today,
Help me trust you come what may.
For what may come is my Father’s will,
His glory to bring and my cup to fill.

(based on Isaiah 26:3)

In this season however I am really struggling to stay my mind on the Lord. In fact I am struggling to stay my mind on anything. My mind feels more like a search light scanning the area back and forth desperately looking for something.

I constantly check my phone for a WhatsApp message from a friend –  maybe I can stay my mind on that friendship, that valuing of me – at least for a moment. Next I check my email looking for some positive feedback on a project I shared with someone – approval might provide a resting place. And if all else fails there’s always just watching something or eating something or making another cup of tea…. 

It’s so foolish and futile though. None of these things are giving me much peace at all – let alone perfect peace. And of course when the WhatsApp reply or the email fails to materialise – far from being guarded and kept – my peace is assaulted and depleted.

And it’s even more foolish and futile because I know the answer and I know I know the answer. I know the answer even as I’m desperately, hungrily scanning away. I know where the treasure is!

Treasure. X marks the spot Hurry, Grab them! - Clip Art Library

So why won’t I stay my mind on my great, good, glorious, gracious Lord? And when I finally do try, why won’t it settle?!

Why, when the scanner sweeps over that huge X does it not starting beeping excitedly?

Well it’s bust isn’t it, I mean it’s dodgy at the best of times, but in the current climate (COVID-19) it is way off. It’s looking for the land of the quick fix and the kingdom of make it go away! It’s craving easy, numbing, low effort relief and it’s obviously unconvinced by the Lord as a source of that.

Which is pretty disturbing news to me.

Disturbing, but also revealing – as times of pressure often are. It would appear that – whatever good habits and routines I have (at times!) managed to sustain I basically fear (and not in the good way) falling at the feet of my Lord and finding my rest in him. There must be something about going to him that doesn’t feel safe enough or easy enough or simple enough or immediate enough. There must be something that I think is required when going to him that I know I just don’t have right now. There is something about it that isn’t a free action – it comes with a price tag and not one I am prepared to pay in this time of crisis. There’s not enough of me left / going spare for that right now – what I need is the next episode in a box set and a bowl of salted almonds! 

And it’s not even that I am telling myself off for any of this. I get the need for self-care and kindness and being realistic in the season we are in. I get that the reality of my sin, my flesh, my old-self makes it costly to die to self and come to Jesus – that we are always going to struggle with that being automatic and easy this side of heaven. But the Lord promises that “he will keep her in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him – because she trusts him” and I feel emboldened to explore what may be getting in the way of that now that our current situation has lifted the lid and shone the light on problems that prefer to hide away in the shadows. 

A thank you prayer

Our dear Father God,

Thank you that….

Your “no” is better than my “now”:
Your test is better than my treat:
Your wisdom than my wants, whens and whys.

And by better I don’t just mean better for us;
It’s not ‘broccoli better than biscuits’ better;

It’s ‘freshly ground coffee better than cheap instant’ better;
It’s ‘Disney World better than the carousel they stick in town on a bank holiday’ better:
It’s ‘standing by Niagara Falls feeling the spray, hearing the pounding water, and seeing the rainbows dancing in it’ better than a dripping tap’ better.

It’s ‘You better than Your stuff’ better.

It is Your will NOT mine;
It’s Your glory AND my abundant portion from You.

So I choose Your will Lord.
Please help me to choose it with ever greater thanksgiving and trust, delight and joyful anticipation.