We’ve been moving through life: through spring colds, through warm spring and cool breeze, and those thunderstorms that come with it. We’ve been marching out our footprints, through running races (like, real actual races) and hamburgers on the grill; through dirt and seeds and water; through Mother’s Day and work days and school days, and just good ol’ days. And books, always.
Let me tell you: I’ve been reading some good stuff. In 7: an experimental mutiny against excess, Jen Hatmaker takes on seven areas of her life over seven months, eliminating all of the “too-much,” fasting from the things that gunk up our lives and pressing into the calling of Christ on her life and family. There is so much good stuff here, and I’m sure it’ll be oozing out of me for a while, but tonight it is this last month of hers that has held me captive.
The last excess that she ousts from her life is stress. Now, obviously life is stressful; it just is. We can’t actually cut out stress from our lives any more than we can cut out breathing. It comes with the job of living. And the flip side of stress is often beautiful and glorious: mountains and valleys. While we can try to dial down excess stress, the stuff that only adds stress for the sake of stress, the best way to work this stress is to figure out how to cope with it For her last month of this experiment, Jen embraces seven sacred pauses that she takes throughout the day to focus her attention: with prayer, with scripture, with an intentional pause to breath.
There is so much to glean from here. I’m pretty sure that she was standing in my kitchen today while Mark was (blessingly) using his free time at home (he’s still on night shift) helping me to fold and organize clean laundry (I cannot begin to tell you how big this mountain of laundry – all clean! – had become). I was moving, frenetically, setting the bigger Little Ones up at the table to paint, nursing the Littlest, back to refill paint, let the dog out, change a diaper, back to clean up paint, all the while trying to get back to the laundry. And then those neatly organized piles of laundry were upended (by the dog? by an overly enthusiastic Little?) And those Little Ones are hungry, again! I knew that my body was tensing, my shoulders beginning to tighten. My breath was short, and so was my fuse. And then Jen Hatmaker whispers in my ear: time to pause. Take it Heavenward. And though I haven’t committed seriously enough yet to engage like she does, with some prescribed prayer and scripture to match, it was enough. Not to slow down the demands of what swirled around me in laundry and lunches, but to recognize my place in it all, my contribution to the atmosphere of stress. Using the regularity of my breath, it forced me to let my shoulders drop, and slow the pace of my feet through the kitchen as I reached for the mayonnaise from the fridge, the pretzels from the cabinet.
Jen writes this about the mid-morning pause (which was pretty much where I was):
This mid-morning pause has two emphases: the first is mindfulness of the Spirit’s abiding presence… This pause can redirect our morning trajectory from “efficient” to “inspired.”
Second, the Blessing Hour is about the sacredness of our hands and work…. Kahlil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible”; what if we approached our work as an opporutnity to show love? To our coworkers, those we serve, our children, to our students… visible love is possible if we work mindfully, as carriers of the sweet Spirit of Christ.
pgs 186-187 (emphasis mine)
Right? Right. This just gets me. Or me, it. As I’m pausing to invite God’s Spirit into my stress, I am inviting Him to show me how to love. As I’m patting dry the Middlest’s hands after washing the paint from them, I’m not just perfunctorily doing a duty: I’m loving her. And not just me loving her but Christ loving her, too. I’m making visible something that is so strong in my heart, so fierce in my brain and my belly. Under His precious breath, it becomes more than my small offering: it becomes enough, more-than-enough. Instead of moving through the blur of the day, heaping the daily chores onto my shoulders, already hunched, unable to straighten from the weight I’m bearing, it’s bringing attention to what is in front of me. What is it that is causing stress for me? Is it the laundry? (Yes!) It’s being mindful in my choices, then. What if I allowed my actions to be inspiration, instead of broken down into some energy input-output strategy of efficiency? What if I allowed God to fill those gaps?
And then, as the day closes, here is what Jen says about the last pause of the day, “the Great Silence”:
It begins with a gentle evaluation of the day. The focus is on awareness, and we include not just weaknesses but the strenghts and accomplishments of the day. The Great Silence teaches us to be healthy sinners, living in neither denial of our sin or despair because of it.
We welcome soft darkness that is exquisitly beautiful and healing. God dims the lights on our weary bodies, making the way for sleep, allowing us to see the stars. There is a beauty to the darkness, the natural rhythm of the earth that invites us to be still and rest.
pg 190. (emphasis mine)
Because to me, that’s what this is all about. It’s my hands, palms up, loosening my grip on the things I hold. It’s not despairing in the mess I’ve made today: in how I haven’t trusted fully, or served whole-heartedly. Not dwelling in the mistakes I’ve made or the way I’ve squandered my one “precious and wild life”. It’s recognizing the things I’ll do differently tomorrow. It’s the mystery of Christ in me, the hope of glory. It’s knowing that I’m loved, simply loved, and not for anything of my doing. It’s having the perspective to know that this is just a teeny tiny part of the bigger picture. And it’s receiving one more gift before we get the fresh start of tomorrow: the gift of rest.