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Rhythm, Routine, Rest


Dear All

As I write, we are in week 7 of lockdown, of ‘Stay at Home, Save Lives’, with the regular handwashing and socially distanced world of ‘coronatime’. For some there is still a place of work to go to regularly, for most of us we are impacted by not going out so much (or at all). Many will have children at home or be adapting to teaching from a distance with schools being closed; there’s the experiment of home-school and the experience for others of working from home (which is not working for everyone!). Shopping is not straightforward and I know many are supporting family, friends and neighbours in this as well – a great blessing but also an extra demand in this time. As for church, that is certainly different in some ways, but it is the everyday life that I wanted to reflect on in this letter.

All of life is a gift from God. All of life is the arena for him to be at work. Every aspect of life is known to him and he can show his care, presence, power and direction in any moment or area of our life as he chooses. Jesus is Lord of all, not just ‘religious’ bits of life, and he invites us to bring it all under his rule, align it with his ways, enjoy his presence and be awake to his activity.

But he also knows that we are frail and finite human beings. We get tired, upset, overwhelmed even. This time has the potential to overwhelm us in many ways. And our heavenly Father knows.

It would be easy at times to see the incredible creativity of some in this lockdown period and feel that we are not keeping up! Social media is a wonderful tool for connection, but if it becomes a measurement of what the ‘good life’ looks like it can deceive or discourage us: not everyone is going to use lockdown to learn a foreign language, master a musical instrument, become the next Mary Berry, build a treehouse, cut their own hair … and all this before lunchtime. But well done to those who have! I just want to remind you that Jesus is our Lord but also our gentle Lord:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

He’s the one who looked on the spiritually lost with compassion, on the hungry crowds as the One who satisfies, and on his grieving friends after the resurrection and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

He desires our spiritual flourishing and growth, but also cares for our everyday well-being as human beings, made by him and for him, the objects of his love and care.

In the many conversations and contacts I have had in the past few weeks I am very aware that this time has been disorientating for most people, overwhelming at times for some, and can be very tiring – physically, emotionally, mentally. These can all feed into spiritual discouragement.

There is ample scope for overload. Some people are speaking of being ‘zoomed out’ on technology. Others have spoken of drowning in WhatsApp messages or the constant social media feed. Perhaps it is juggling working from home with being present to others at home. We each need rest.

With these concerns in mind, I wish to encourage you to hear the words of Jesus afresh, to come to him each day and find rest. To recognise that he cares and watches over you and does not make demands that are a burden, in fact he would carry your burdens. The burden he lays is his gentle leadership over our lives (to be followers, disciples, to submit and trust). There from him we find the resources to live as we rest under his rule, rest from striving from spiritual achievement too as his rescue has paid that price for us.

I have found it helpful to think about three ‘R’s: rhythm, routine, rest.

· Rhythm is about pace: When so much has changed or is uncertain, what does a sustainable rhythm to my week look like? What do I really need to do? What can I reasonably achieve? What can be left for now (or for ever?!)? And how can I build a rhythm that includes the priorities but isn’t exhausting: e.g. work, family, connecting with others, meals, spiritual input, quiet, fun things, helping others, shopping, etc.

· Routine is about what we actually do, repeating habits: what will I do every day for the sake of my mind, body and soul. When and how will I get spiritual input – reading the Bible is the key habit here. How do I get some exercise or keep mobile? Where or when will I best be able to pray? What wears me down that I need to not do every day!

· Rest is … rest! What will we do to renew ourselves, protect our mental and emotional health, and make space to be restored? Where do I have fun, gain encouragement, find fresh energy and joy? What will guard my mental health in place of potential anxiety or stress?

In this time we can easily lose track of time. Our family has a whiteboard to remind us which day of the week it is and which day of lockdown!! (Anyone remember Steve McQueen in the cooler in The Great Escape?) Forgetting which day it is has become more common, but losing all sense of rhythm and routine and not guarding our rest will really impact us. Even Jesus took time to rest, to be alone, to pray, and to enjoy time with friends over meals.

So let me offer a few suggestions. These are just that – suggestions – which will work for some and not all, depending on your circumstances, personality and so on. But we could each benefit from the principles here. And we each need to recognise our needs and that God cares for us as human beings – earthly, fragile at times, wonderfully made and yet limited too.

Be gentle with yourself

The great commandments are: love the Lord your God and love others as yourself (Matthew 27:37-39). Loving ourselves isn’t about being self-absorbed or self-centred, it is to rightly take care of ourselves too, even for the sake of others we care for or work for. Let’s be gentle, especially in this time, with the demands we place on ourselves even before we ask what others might expect of us.

Plan for social connection

Choose a time when you will regularly pick up the phone to speak to a friend. Call someone in your small group or friendship network who you perhaps have not spoken with in a while. Make space for conversations not just texts, etc.

Write!

When we are inundated with emails or WhatsApp, physical post can be precious. Why not write a couple of cards every now and then. It could be little more than a reminder that you are thinking of someone. Little acts of kindness go a long way and take us out of our own concerns.

Store up what you enjoy in the day

We can’t go to the cinema or Costa. I miss swimming (and my parents, church family, friends, etc.) So, having fun and finding enjoyment is vital. Have something to look forward to, either alone or together. The family meal time (or game, or quiz), the TV show, that particular phone call, the bike ride, the good book, the chocolate cake you made to send to the ministry team but will now have to sacrificially eat yourself, the walk round the block or to the park. Even the jigsaw!

Managing anxiety and worry

Recognise your feelings but allow yourself not to dwell on them. Look for what you are grateful for and do have when feelings of what we miss and don’t have can dominate. Keep in touch with friends; we are physically isolated but don’t need to be socially isolated. As someone put it, ‘eat a mentally healthy diet’ – don’t watch the news if it causes anxiety, if it just stokes up worry. Read or watch something you’ll enjoy, to have fun, to relax. If you need to, seek advice or medical help, but don’t struggle alone. Let God speak into how we feel with his promises.

Draw on God’s resources for your spiritual life

Make a routine or habit of daily Bible reading and prayer. Little and often is powerful too. Talk about these things with others. Write down what God impresses upon you, his encouragements for you in his word. Listen to some worship music. Pray and walk. Light a candle and be silent, focusing on Jesus. Write a journal or draw. Read a Christian book. Connect with your small group if you are able. Join us for the Sunday service online. The church building is closed but the church is alive and well, and God is with us always.

Go outdoors

The natural world is enjoying rest and is in stunning shape: the quiet of the roads and the sky (look, no planes!), the clean air, the overgrown parks and hedgerows. We are ‘allowed’ to go for walks and yet just stepping outside, looking and noticing the beauty and majesty of creation is good for us. God made us for wonder and awe, and to appreciate creation. It also takes our mind off other concerns and pressures. Exercise is a powerful medicine for our mental health too.

Unplug

Turn off the phone, the reminders, the notifications, the screens. They are designed to distract and attract – to gain our attention. But there is also a time when our mind and soul needs rest; the tech has been an incredible blessing in lockdown but screens can also leave us drained, ‘zoomed out’. Have a tech-free day, a digital Sabbath perhaps.

Rhythm. Routines. Rest.

Each of us needs to take stock and work out: what are the rhythms and routines for our everyday life that will be helpful and sustain us? How can we work well without being drained or disengaged? How can we flourish even in lockdown? What does rest look like if we are at home most of the time?

We can’t yet know how long this period will last or what emerging from lockdown will look like. We do know that across the community, our country and the world the impact of the virus has brought so much loss and suffering. For others the impact of isolation, change, missing people or routine has been great. In all this, what a real comfort it can be to cast ourselves and our cares upon the Lord:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Psalm 55:22

The Lord of all the earth cares for you. The Author of life and creation cares for you. The King of Kings knows your name and cares for you. And He is sustaining all things by his powerful hand, so we don’t need to try and do that for him. We can cast ourselves, our concerns, our cares and our future upon him.

Whatever you are facing today, may you know his great love towards you, his strength ready for you, and his wisdom which will enable us in whatever the future holds. He holds the future.

May he grant you his rest and equip you for all good things,

With love in Christ Jesus to you and your families,

Andrew, Senior Pastor, Ampthill Baptist Church

 

Permission granted for the use of this letter. 

Thank you Andrew for your insight and encouragement to us all.  DJW