This post should have made it into the blogosphere three weeks ago. I drafted it – then redrafted it – then redrafted it again – and eventually I totally rewrote it.
Let me explain. I welcomed the invitation to ‘slow down’ for Lent. Really, I did. But I’ve been trying to figure out what it means in practice for me and my family – and my thinking has led me round in circles so many times that I’m not sure anymore what I can say with integrity. Perhaps you can identify with my struggle to slow down?
Let me give you some background on my own situation, before making horrendous generalisations about yours. (Don’t you just love it when writers do that?) I spend my days caring for two small children (with whom, 90% of the time, I’m happy to admit biological connection). I started off Lent thinking: how do I slow down when my kids won’t slow down? They’re lively, energetic, and have a lot of needs which they can’t yet fulfil themselves. Life with them is anything but slow.
But really, when I’m honest, so often it’s me making them run to my pace. “Come on, hurry up, get your coat on, we need to leave, we’re going to be late…”
OK, God, so this year Lent will be about slowing down to make time for my kids. Spending proper time playing with them – not just a token ten minutes before rushing off to complete another chore. Engaging with a particular activity until they lose interest, not me. Making time for the things they want to do, even if that means standing in our garden, freezing cold, watching my 1-year-old happily and repeatedly empty the contents of a watering can over herself while my job is to replenish the water. Every ten seconds. For about half an hour.
Fine, that’s my calling, that’s what’s important and that’s what I’ll do. But – hang on – clothes still need to be washed, the dishwasher still needs to be loaded, meals still need to be made. No problem, I say, I’ll become more disciplined at doing those things when my children have gone to bed. I will speed up the evenings so that I can slow down the days. Er, hang on…something tells me this isn’t really what Matthew P had in mind.
Those of you working outside the home may find it pretty difficult to ‘slow down’ too. There are so many demands made on you, so many tasks you have to accomplish, such tight deadlines to meet. A lot of this you may not have any control over.
Because our culture dictates that our lives need to be constantly full, we often take on additional commitments which do us – and our relationship with God – no good. We take on extra tasks at work to boost our CVs and increase our chances of promotion – when we know that God has the best plans for our future. We lay on ourselves unrealistic burdens of perfect parenting – when we know that we’ll never be perfect. We complicate our lives with additional ‘stuff’ – financial commitments, social media, possessions, hobbies, holidays, personal goals – as if we can find fulfilment outside of God. We fill every nook and cranny of our days because…well, why do we do it? Perhaps we’re worried we’ll become lonely or miserable if we don’t. Perhaps we like to feel that we’re indispensable to the various projects we serve. Perhaps we don’t trust that Jesus is enough. Perhaps we’re scared to spend more time with God in case – heaven forbid – He actually speaks to us.
If I were to write up the ideas I’ve had over the past few weeks about how I can slow down, it might start something like this:
1) Do all housework in the evenings to spend more time with the kids in the day.
2) Involve Child A in preparing dinner to spend more quality time with him.
3) Search cbeebies website for suitable recipes for 2) above.
4) Give up housework for Lent. Also: give up eating when we run out of clean dishes, and become naturists when we run out of clean clothes. (Oops. Just had a brain block on that word. Can’t believe I nearly had to Google ‘people who wear no clothes’.)
But this makes life more complicated, not more simple. It’s not ‘slowing down’ – and it definitely doesn’t look like the life Jesus modelled. Why do I so often try to reduce Biblical living to a set of rules, principles or same-lettered prompt words?
I suspect that the reason I need to slow down in the first place is because I have grown so far from the simple living I see in Jesus. I suspect that I shouldn’t really need to slow down because I was never meant to be running at this pace. (Have you ever wondered whether the plethora of illnesses people suffer from as a result of over-busy lives might be a sign that our minds and bodies aren’t designed to be travelling at breakneck speed?)
My mind is still a mess. Sometimes my life is slow, sometimes it is not. Perhaps I do need to drop commitments, procrastinate less, stop worrying. But that’s not the point. My priority, this Lent, is to make time for Him. I will confess the time I have wasted trying to seek value in other things. I will ask Him to reallign my priorities. I will invite Him to direct my time.
And I think He may do just that.
Lucy Rycroft is married to Al, attempts parenthood on a daily basis, and blogs at http://desertmum1.wordpress.com/