7:30am. I am sat in Brussels Airport. The plane I want to catch is delayed and outside the clouds seem to be merging in with all that I can see like artwork as snowflakes gently caress the window I lean against. My eyes are tired and the pane of glass is cold as I feel my cheekbone numbing whilst I struggle to find somewhere to wait. The smell of freshly brewed coffee doesn’t do anything to enlighten the atmosphere of weary and dishevelled passengers. Even the constant smiles of the air hosts appears to be waning as the second day of delays seems to bring Europe to its knees. Yet I find myself smiling for probably the first time in a situation like this. Don’t get me wrong, I am an incredibly impatient person and waiting for anything usually sets my frustration levels into overdrive. But as I return from my yearly adventure to Uganda, I am finally beginning to learn the beauty of stopping.
There is nothing quite like travel. Do it right and you can encounter the wonderful privilege of perceiving the world through an entire different lens. To escape the humdrum of UK life and discover that 9-5 work doesn’t exist everywhere is bliss. This time was no different. Spending 9 days with my Ugandan family and remembering that life doesn’t always have to be ‘doing’ is so freeing. Africa never seems to operate very fast, I have spent many times waiting to go somewhere, only for the people I am with to not leave for another two hours. At times it is frustrating but it also incredibly challenging to the constant whirring that my life seems to produce. I’m being forced to stop and breathe…..
Interwoven with the precious time with family community, I ended up finding myself reading the gospel of Mark. Early on in Mark, Jesus says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was a period from Friday evening until Saturday evening where Jews had a day of rest. As you continue through the book, Jesus constantly retreats from ministry to stop, pause and pray. Jesus knew the importance of stopping. The remarkable thing I find, is that the sabbath, the art of stopping, wasn’t designed for Gods benefit but for our own according to Jesus. We aren’t programmed to operate like machinery, constantly running 24/7.
But our culture doesn’t really do stopping, we work hard and play even harder, social media means that we are almost expected to be available 24-7 and it always feels there are demands, albeit good ones, for my time and attention. It’s only when I stop that I often realise how tired I am, not just physically but mentally and spiritually as well. How many times have I got to the end of term and felt physically, emotionally and spiritually burnt out. Even when I do stop and “crash,” I feel guilty that I haven’t been productive and have wasted a day. I wonder if you ever feel the same? Yet the past few months, I’ve tried to embed the idea of Sabbath in my life, to see if Jesus had a point. The art of stopping to rest and not do anything, it’s alot harder than it seems…
I love doing stuff, my old vicar used to say to me that I had ten great ideas for the day before breakfast. There are so many things I want to do, travel, write a book, write an album, become fitter, coach and play football, become a better photographer, the list goes on. There are always so many people that I say “lets catch up” only to find my diary is saturated. Maybe you feel the same? But as I have tried to intentioanlly stop, I’ve noticed that a few things have happened. Firstly, I’m physically less tired, I’m able to be more effective for the rest of the week and avoid the constant burnout I used to experience at the end of every term. Secondly, there is something powerful in not doing anything and just ‘being.’ It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that we are definded by the things that we do, stopping forces us to start to know that we are loved as we are. Being Dave Smith is enough…
Thirdly, I’ve found its given me time to spend time reordering my life around my relationship with God, rather than the other way around. I can’t stress enough how incredibly different I am when God is central in my life. I worry less, am more content with who I am and often have greater courage and perserverance through whatever life throws at me. As I have done these things it has impacted my wider life, giving me more energy and focus and probably most importantly, the realisation that God doesn’t rush at 100mph and nor should I. I’ve found I’ve had more time to give to people I meet in my everyday and to not hold on too tightly to the anxieties that life inundates us with.
The only way I can describe it is like swimming underwater for a very long time and then coming up to breathe. It’s not some magic formula that always equates to a better more refreshed Dave, but the more I do it, the more I feel I am walking a rhythm that is sustainable and keeps my eyes on what is important.
My challenge for 2018 is to try and find time each week to spend time ‘switching off,’ for me that means switching off my phone, grabbing some space in the stillness of nature and spending time not rushing about from event to event. It might not be for a whole day, but as I have started to do this, sometimes just for an afternoon, it has felt like taking in a big breath of air. So as I sat in the chaos of delayed aircraft, coffee and blizzards, I was grafteful for the time to pause, stop… and breathe.
Will you join me? Maybe the sabbath was created for us after all?