I am a huge fan of the Vicar of Dibley, we as a family have enjoyed belly-aching laughs at the antics of the slightly (ir)Reverend Geraldine Grainger as she struggles to adapt to and support a weird and wonderful collection of parishioners. I love when she meets her love rival in the ‘Songs of Praise’ episode. The dashing Tristan arrives at her door, apparently seeking Geraldine’s hand in marriage, only for her fantasy to be shattered by the arrival of his real heart’s desire – Aoife – ‘You Irish love your vowels!’ gushes the sweet reverend as she pronounces her name – ‘heifer’! We certainly do, we weave vowels and soft consonants into every second word. There is structure and usually good reason to include as many vowels as possible into a single word.
This all came to mind when I woke up this morning thinking about my ‘Laethanta Saoire’ (My Holidays). The only vowel missing in the second word (Saoire) is ‘u’ which may well be a strangely poignant metaphor for the reality that many of us will not get holidays at all this year. Financial and work pressures, looming deadlines and that by now all too familiar unsettling fear that has been our constant companion for some months now; may all deprive us of getting some meaningful rest and recuperation this summer. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be so ‘Leaethanta Saoire’ literally means ‘free days’, and while the overseas break away, or even the ‘staycation’ may well be beyond our means, it is possible for us to get some ‘free days’ by staying right where we are.
Some years ago, a friend explained to me the difference between ‘days off’ and ‘Sabbath days’. If we are honest, days off very often become an opportunity to clear some of the seemingly endless ‘to do’ list that grows in our minds (and on paper), stealing our peace. While there is some short term relief in getting some long-standing job sorted, we may often end our days off exhausted and stressed about heading back to the busyness the next morning. ‘Sabbath’ is different, Sabbath rest is literally stepping away from the chaos and unending demands and resting in the presence of God. Ironically ‘Sabbathrest’ doesn’t even need us to do nothing (rest) to enjoy it. Finding our place of peace (Blog 23rd July) means that our Sabbath rest can be filled with walks and therapeutic activities. The key is that we rest in the presence of God, allowing Him to carry our burden for a while, while we recover.
Very often my first few days away on holidays involve what I call the ‘healing of the aches and pains’ – (not just physically). As I still get up early (a throw back to the childhood early morning alarm to get up and milk the cows), I head for the beach, and walk and walk and walk,…and then I pray and even sing. There is something soothing and healing in those early walks that allows me to head home and sleep again.
This year, for all the now familiar reasons, ‘free days’ will be different. Thankfully we will get some time away, but the reality of what is happening around us, and the sheer volume of things to sort out on our return is already making the break we hope to begin next week seem too short and too squeezed to be effective which is why these Irish words ‘laethanta saoire’ keep playing around in my head. We are so fortunate to have somewhere to go, but even if we hadn’t the option ‘free days’ are possible for everyone. There are a number of key parts to a successful ‘free day’
A sense of adventure : Too often the sameness of each day can drain us, doing something completely different, a walk, a swim in the sea, a luxuriant even decadent cup of coffee out with a friend, can all awaken our sense of adventure. Our senses need new experiences that shake our routine.
Trust: This is a biggie! In order for a day to be truly free, we have to free ourselves of all the things that trouble us, our worries and our fears. Simply distracting ourselves with box-sets rarely works. The daily discipline of thinking about each thing that overwhelms us and then consciously placing it into God’s more than capable hands for the day ahead, is truly liberating (it takes practice so don’t be surprised if you surrender something to God, then almost immediately snatch it back).
Fun: I often think that I grew up with children, I rarely let myself be a child. This became clear to me when I became a parent. It took me ages to learn to get down on my hands and knees and just play with my kids, rather than being on constant alert to their needs. Even now, I’ve realised lately, simply having fun is not easy for me to do. Go figure!
Guilt free: Guilt is a necessary tool but too often becomes an inappropriate burden. This can be a tricky one, as we can worry that if we let our moral compass loose all sorts of hidden weaknesses may emerge. As in most things, there is balance. It is ok to take time off, in fact it is both necessary and healthy. By letting ourselves relax, trusting God, and freeing ourselves from inappropriate Guilt, we can taste a freedom that can transform our daily lives. I love the story of Elijah as told in 1st Kings 18 and 19. Elijah has this incredible contest against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He vanquishes them, and senses the long drought is about to end. He advises the wicked King Ahab to head home else his chariot will get stuck in the mud – this is quite a remarkable statement of trust, as the only sign of pending rain is a tiny cloud in an azure blue sky. Then Elijah seems to step outside the presence of God and decides not to take a lift back, but rather runs ahead of Ahab’s chariot. And then the refreshing rains begin to fall. It’s as if he has a surge of supernatural adrenaline, he has witnessed so much power, he is literally on a high – that he runs all the way back to the city. It is there where the rush of adrenaline has been spent, when he’s tired beyond words, and vulnerable, that Queen Jezebel threatens him, terrifies him and causes him to flee. The one who literally saw fire coming down from heaven burns out himself and runs away. God’s response is telling. He lets Elijah rest, he even feeds him, he gently challenges him, then He refreshes him. All of this is possible because of his relationship with God. Even though he’s scared, shattered and depressed – God meets him, nurtures him, appoints his successor and frees him from his fears. Please do read these two chapters, they give an amazing insight into the tender heart of God.
And so, whatever ‘free days’ are available to you this summer, I pray that you will be able to do so much more than just have days off, I pray you will have Sabbath rest, with a loving God who can sustain you and refresh you and even transform you as you trust and follow him.
(Pictures by kind permission Avril Stanley)