Tuesday, March 16, 2010

busyness, stress and the grace of God (2) seasons

It's September 2007. I'm sitting in the living room with two of my dearest friends. Our youngest children are no longer babies, and our minds turn to the future, to the world beyond our front doors. What do Christian women need? How can we encourage them? Together we dream about the next season of life. The possibilities run around my head until one morning I wake up with a newly-minted idea: start a blog! After that, who knows? Writing? Seminars? Conferences? They're only a dream away.

I get too busy when I ... forget which season I'm in.

What I was thinking. "I'm starting on a new season of life. I'll have more time now. It's time for dreaming! What exciting new ministries can I get involved in?"

What I'm learning.
1. You can't hurry seasons.
Women's lives, even more than men's, are divided into seasons. Each season takes as long as it needs to, and you can't move onto the next until it's over. Older women are always telling me how short this season with young children will be, and that there will be more time for new ministries in the next. I'll take that on faith: it doesn't feel that way to me! But I'm learning to be patient and content with this season; to rejoice in its unique possibilities and responsibilities; and to trust God with the slowness of the next season's coming. Why would I hurry this precious season?

2. It's easy to underestimate a new season's demands.
Looking back, there was a remarkable lack of wisdom in my timing. Four children, with the youngest barely a year old, is hardly the time for grand plans about lots of new ministries! (Yes, I am glad I started this blog, but what came next is another story ...). It's the same when your youngest child starts school: many women throw themselves into work and ministry, without realising how demanding the next season of life will be. Which leads to my next point ...

3. At the start of a new season, take time to recover and reflect. Here's some excellent advice I've heard: when your youngest child goes to school, have a quiet year before filling in your "extra" time. Until you've lived in the next season, you won't know how demanding it is. And I'll need time to recover after 13 exhausting years at home with young children. Take time to rest and reflect, and step cautiously into new ministries, knowing they'll expand to fill more time than you expect. (This isn't an excuse for laziness or selfishness, but a reminder for those of us who eagerly say "yes" to everything to take care.)

4. Leave room for relationships - and the unexpected.
Women's lives tend to be focused on relationships. That's good and appropriate, but it means our plans will be frequently interrupted. I have a friend in her 50s who works in ministry. Every year of the last 3 years, she's had to cut down her working hours because of unexpected demands: a cancer scare, a dying father-in-law, a sick son in another state, a new grandchild with serious health issues, her husband's change of job. Leave room for relationships. Leave room for the unexpected. Keep your diary lazy. You can always fill your spare time later!

5. Put each season's first things first.
During the season I'm in, my first responsibility after helping my husband is to teach and train our kids; and after that, to serve in our church and reach out to our community. When I take on lots of public ministries, it undermines health and rest, and drains my energy for those God gives me to love. It's okay for outside ministry to put pressure on our family from time to time - that's part of the cost of serving Jesus - but when I'm constantly neglecting my relationships it's time to repent, cut down, and ask God to help me serve him faithfully in the season I'm in. (If you want to think more about this, see my series balancing homemaking and ministry.)

6. God never changes, even when seasons do.
The changeableness of seasons can make us feel unsettled and uncertain. But our security doesn't come from a settled life: it comes from God. Through seasons of grief, seasons of exhaustion, and even seasons which don't seem to end, our God is always faithful, and his sovereign grace and loving kindness don't change.

What do you think? How does being aware of our season of life help us to serve God faithfully, without becoming too busy and neglecting the important things? Are you caring for the people you need to care for in the season you're in?

images are from visuallegedanken, joiseyshowaa and ToniVC at http://www.flickr.com/; image of door with windows is from http://www.sxc.hu/


Fiona McLean said...

Thanks for this, Jean. I am very thankful for the season I'm in at the moment and the opportunities that gives me to spend time with my children, build relationships locally, and pray, without too much rush and hurry and busyness. With my youngest (of 4) starting school next year, I was planning to (try to!) have a "quiet year", without significantly increasing my existing commitments (CRE teaching, CMS committees, etc). I like the idea of making space and time to adjust to a season. We'll see how it goes!

Anonymous said...

Excellent points!

Susan Alexander Yates has a chapter on seasons in her book "And Then I Had Kids"- which is an excellent book, btw.


Valori said...

Good points, Jean. I have also found that when a "busy" season ends, I find myself able to do some of those basic things that I had to set aside when I had so much else on my plate. Whenever we add a new responsibility into our schedule, something has to give. Also, I think it's such a walk of faith to both rest when it's time to rest and to work hard when we know God is giving us more than we think we can handle. It takes so much wisdom and prayer and counsel. I am so thankful that we have a personal, faithful God to lead and guide us!

Tasmanian said...

"The Desert Song" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QemZQKKJbRU
says "All of my life, in every season, You are still God, I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship." This has been an important song to sing during this season for me, as I try to become more like Jesus in daily service to my family instead of being the Youth Pastor! Unknown to me, my sister had the same song in her mind as she struggled with her rebelling 19-year-old son.

Meredith said...

Thanks for these thoughts and for this series - so perfectly timed and balm for me. This year is my "youngest has gone to Kindy for two days a week before entering full time school next year" transition year. And I am finding it surprisingly very difficult to navigate!

I don't think a day went past last year when I didn't think of what this year would hold...a chance to sit quietly...and yet now that it is here and I have a chance to think, I keep thinking about what happens next year when two days becomes five. Being a stay at home mum was such a no brainer for me when the children weren't at school. But black and white is now taking on all sorts of shades of grey!

So I am appreciating the slow trickle of this series as much as anything, which keeps reigning my wildly galloping thoughts back in and reminding me to keep talking to God about it all.

Interestingly, yesterday, Mr 7 Year Old, out of the blue asked,
"Why don't you have a job mummy?"
Me: Does everyone else's mum have a job.
7: Yes.
Me (feeling somewhat disgusted that I am getting this kind of pressure from my own child!!): What sort of job should I get?
7: Well...(pause)...actually you have a job, don't you? You teach Scripture at school.
Me: Yes, I do.
7: That's the most important job. Keep doing that mummy.

Praising God for the wisdom from the mouths of babes and thanking Him for your wise words too. Keep them coming!


mattnbec said...

Thanks so much for these thoughts, Jean. Very timely as we begin to consider our move back to Australia and into a new ministry area. We've tried to take time out to rest and not be too busy with ministry things here so that we'd be refreshed once our next move happened. But I'm beginning to realise just how much I might need to continue to hold off doing too much - we'll be moving back across the world with a 5 yo, a 3 yo and a baby; there will be new ministry challenges; new housing; a new church and so on. So your reflections are good to be reminded of before we get to that point. Especially number six - the one it's perhaps easiest to forget!