Do you remember the days of the Mars Bar adverts – ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play!’? It is still right there, engraved on my memory, as so many things from childhood are… Just yesterday I was singing a catchy 70’s song to Martin and knew all the words to all the verses, even though they were more than a little inane – it had obviously entered my youthful consciousness and taken root like a weed! However, if you now ask me which song it was… I really can’t remember those details from just 24 hours ago!
I haven’t seen that Mars Bar commercial for a while… if my memory isn’t failing yet again… 😉 In fact these days to suggest that eating a highly calorific chocolate bar every day for the good of your health and work/life balance would seem very wrong. We shouldn’t be deriving our physical energy from those simple sugars, no matter how tasty the carob beans or how addictive the caffeine they contain: you should have had your low GI cereals for breakfast – and don’t forget your 5-a-day either if you want to be really healthy! I wonder if Mars Bar sales have plummeted? When we bought them as children they cost 9d, a pocket money treat on a Saturday…
I drag myself back to the present, where all these years later I have actually – without any reference to the role of chocolate and caramel – been thinking that ‘Work, rest and play’ actually seems to be a pretty good theme for life. In just the past few weeks I have been deliberately learning to play again – allowing my inner child some space to find out what she enjoys doing, letting the buried emotions surface, relaxing into who I am underneath all the stress and worry of recent months, giving myself permission to ‘be’… Perhaps most people do this by playing sport or music and other hobbies after work and at weekends – it’s the restorative, therapeutic and – in our society – highly revered, ‘R&R’.
But way before my adventures with cuddly toys, seaside memories and making heart-space to rediscover childlike joy, I was getting wise to the necessity of rest – not just 8 hours sleep a night, nor one of those hallowed ‘R’s, but living out of a place of restfulness and peace in my inner self – a flow of grace, ease and life. I wrote about this struggle to live at peace at the beginning of this month: in fact it would seem to be the key to living well in our crazy age, and surely what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ Matthew 11v29-31. It is all about the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’, as the Message translation puts it – and can be a real problem in the computer age when we can take all our cues from outside ourselves, from external input instead of internal leading. Every day we are dictated to by the tyranny of emails, phone calls and texts waiting to be answered, the easy distraction of facebook, the diarised appointments. Martin seems to spend every moment of his waking day in front of one type of screen or another! There is tooo much information and tooo much to do – deadlines and juggling – it is getting worse: it’s a flood, an ocean, a tide that cannot be controlled.
Come aside and rest a while! It is good to start each day in quiet, just to get one’s head-noise under control and set some priorities for the day – otherwise all our good intentions get swept away and the seed we planned to sow never reaches the soil, let alone gets watered and nurtured. I have to ‘bring myself to peace’ even to write, because – far from ‘writer’s block’ – there are such a huge amount of words and ideas like verbal diarrhoea/constipation in my brain it can paralyse me! Unless I can get into a flow of peace I simply cannot function: all the other things waiting to be done – and there are always SO many things – crowd in and disturb my heart and concentration. Without peace, wisdom, clarity, how would I know what was the important thing to focus on right now? It takes discipline – and I admit I need help: Holy Spirit, help! It is much better when I realise I am never going to be in control of the ocean and can just float in my little boat where the currents take me… on the inside anyway.
But now, to bring balance to the force, I am thinking about ‘work’! This may be alien to you – you probably work every day and my inner journey of discovery could be alien or infantile as you gird up your loins and sing ‘hi ho’ every morning 😉 Or you may be really stressed out and fed up with what you are doing to pay the bills and keep the family fed; I’m sorry – read the paragraph above again… I am in a very privileged position, not having to go out to earn money. It would be nice to earn some money – it imparts a terrific sense of worth when you get paid for something you have done – but for many years now our provision has come from Martin’s employment, while I fill in behind him at home. The division of labour works well – he earns the cash and I get it and spend it – which is a full-time job, I assure you!
So I have been thinking – what is work? I do have a sense of worthwhile things I should be getting on with but part of me is lazy – and tired still. Should I be pushing myself to do more or is that going against the sense of a time of ‘rest and recovery’ – ‘me-time’ since Sam left the country? I am afraid if I jump too soon I will over-balance and lose the recently discovered ‘play’ and ‘rest’ aspects of life! Yet I know there is more to accomplish… Why is it so hard to choose to do things we know will be good for us in the end?! That is simply the human condition – turns out I need the Holy Spirit’s help again to fire me up and give me grace, joy and strength – excitement and enjoyment, effectiveness and purpose – COME ON!
Dictionary definition of work: ‘activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result’. So – the definition of work is effort with a purpose! – and a ‘job’ is the paid version…
Why is this so liberating for me, like a revelation?! It tells me it is OK to ‘make an effort’, to try at something, to aim for the goal, to be stretched. I know this over many years ‘working’ in various spheres – how did I get so big if I never got stretched before? The problem for most of us is knowing when to ease back! Of course there is cost to count, a price to pay as we give ourselves to a task… and can I afford it right now? Well, if I get exhausted I will just have to fall back into rest and play again: there is timing in these things. As followers of Jesus, if we are walking in the yoke with Him there are seasons of life that He alone can set. He always made it clear that counting the cost of being His meant paying all we have (Luke 14v33) so the matter of obedience to His prompting can’t be overlooked!
I do sense that prompting as a kind of frustration – all this ‘stuff’ building up inside needing an outlet. I’m just going to have to take the risk and launch out while I can. Mars Bar energy or not, for me Holy Spirit energy is saying – it is time to work!