Dancing with the darkness

How do you approach the things you fear?
There is a wonderful children’s book that my boy got from the library: Darkness Slipped In by Ella Burfoot. ┬áIt’s the story of Daisy, a little girl who is afraid of the dark. Darkness is illustrated by a shadowy, sinister-looking character who peeps in at her window at the end of the day. I was reading it to my boy for the first time, sitting on the blue sofa in our family room, and I figured I knew where the story was going – something like the girl turning on the light and seeing that darkness had disappeared, or gone small, so she didn’t need to be afraid.
But that isn’t how the story goes. Instead, she switches the light on, and looks him straight in the eye to let him know she knows he is there and is not afraid of him. And then they dance.
He grabs her by the wrist in a battle move, and she grabs his in return and they ‘dance the funky twist’ round the room. Then, exhausted, they sit down, the two of them, and have a happy cup of tea together. At the end of the story, darkness wraps her in a hug and she goes to sleep in peace.
The book had surprised me. The girl looks straight at her fear and then embraces it instead of banishing it. She dances with the darkness.
I have known for a while that I need to write this post, but I have been afraid.
Let me explain.

Last year, roundabout October time, my friend Cat was round and I was asking her which project I should concentrate on: 1. my book on how it feels to have ME (important, but draining), 2. my blog on suffering and the Bible (life-giving and refreshing for me, but hard to do at the same time as writing a book), or 3. (and I was a little sheepish about this one) Project Get Better, trying to get the best medical advice I could find and seeking to make sure I was not damaging my body by doing too much. How could I do all three at the same time?
She shrugged and said she didn’t know. I had had the same conversation with lots of people, and they had all said that same thing. But I pressed her.
“What do you think I should do?”
She paused, and put her coffee down, and looked me in the eye.
“I think you need to take a break from your blog, and just rest, and focus on getting better and reconnecting with God.”
I burst into tears. I cried because I love blogging, and my blog is so precious to me and such a lifeline – and I cried because at the same time a part of my soul leapt and said, ‘yes, I need rest’, and I knew it was the right thing to do.
The trouble is: I fear rest. I know how ironic that is, having an illness where I need to spend approximately 23 hours of the day lying down, but I fear it. For eighteen months after I gave birth, I spent my days in bed, cuddled up with my baby or resting alone, looking at the beige wall paper. I couldn’t have many visitors, because my concentration span was so short, and it was painful to sit up. I couldn’t read anything longer than a Facebook page. I listened to classical music, and tried to think of ways to entertain my boy so that he wouldn’t crawl off the bed. It was a special time of bonding with my baby, and enjoying him and getting to know him, but it was also a profoundly lonely time.
I don’t much like silence. As an extrovert, I am most comfortable when I have people around and when I am spending the majority of the day in conversation with others. If I were to choose how to spend a day off, I would always choose going out, walking with friends or talking in a coffee shop. So often when we talk about having a break, we actually mean leisure – activity, rather than rest.
Rest, for me, has become associated with those eighteen months of solitude and uncertainty. My illness means that I have to lie in my bed for a long time and do nothing. Rest feels more like a punishment than a privilege.
I do the minimum rest I need, and try to make the most of the energy remaining to me by writing, fostering friendships via the internet and locally, and having quality time with my boy. I try to pretend I am not as ill as I am. Because I am forced to rest, I fight it.
I have always thought of rest as an absence: an absence of work, an absence of fun, the thing you do as quickly as possible so you can return to the busyness and joy of life. It’s boring. I have in my mind’s eye the musical symbol for a minim rest – two beats of silence and boredom before the other notes can play again.

It’s a flat, dull shape. It even looks a bit like a prison bunk, a hard bed.

Here’s me lying on my rest. Bored.

Bed rest

Bed rest

But over the past two months another question has been at the back of my mind: what if rest is not an absence, but a presence?

And then I remembered the symbol for a crotchet rest:

Quivering rest
I am exploring the possibility that this is what rest can look like, a quivering, shimmying, fire-like invitation. The Bible speaks of rest not as a break, but as fulfilment, peace, an ongoing state of wholeness. I want to find this kind of rest.

So (deep breath) – I am announcing my intention to take a break from regular blogging for the next 4 months. I hope to pop in once a month to do a ‘What I’m Into’ post, because it’s a bit too scary to think of leaving this amazing community of readers and supporters for too long, but basically, it’s going to be a bit quiet around here. For a while, I was telling myself that that’s so I could finish off writing the book – but I know that may not happen, and in the meantime I need to invest in Project Get Better.
In some ways I know this choice has already been made for me: my recent relapse has left me with little energy to write, and I am aware that my blog posts this year have been somewhat sporadic.
But there is something powerful in saying that I am choosing to do what my body has already chosen for me. I will no longer fight it*.
(*As much).
Somewhere there is a kind of rest that is not absence and solitude but Shalom, wholeness, peace, the presence of God. I am choosing to rest, not as a punishment, but as a privilege.
Wish me luck. I’m going to dance with the darkness.
Over to you:

  • Do you think of rest as a ‘presence’ or an ‘absence’?
  • What do you fear?
  • What would it mean for you to ‘dance with the darkness’?

And (this is a huge favour) – will you wonderful readers be here when I get back? Will you be just the right amount of ‘we can totally cope without you’ and ‘we can’t possibly cope without you?’ I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this amazing community of people who read and support my blog. I’ll be back properly in September. Promise.

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72 Responses to Dancing with the darkness

  1. Alice 24th April, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Well done – this is such a painful thing to do and yet I hope you find it a tremendous blessing and that it revives you in ways you hadn’t expected. You’re wise and brave to do it – even though I imagine there were tears as you pressed ‘publish’. This community won’t leave you. xxx

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:04 am #

      Thank you for modelling the wisdom of rest and taking a break. And thank you for being one who stays.

  2. Ruth Norbury 24th April, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Sounds like a wise if hard decision. It can be so tempting to do as much as we are able to – I can definitely relate to rest being boring & also not ‘meaningful’ or useful. I was reading the story of Mary & Martha with the boys the other night and found that very challenging – the things Martha was doing weren’t wrong in themselves, just not the best thing right then – I know I can so often be ‘busy’ instead of resting with Jesus. Hope you are able to enjoy your rest time and be blessed by God in ways you can’t imagine now! xxx ps Isaiah 40:27-31 x

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:06 am #

      There is so much wisdom in this: ‘the things Martha was doing weren’t wrong in themselves, just not the best thing right then’. And thanks for the isaiah passage. I do love that we have a God who does not grow weary.

  3. Joanna 24th April, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Tanya, this is so beautiful. I hope this doesn’t sound presumptuous, but as I was reading it I had such a sense of your season of rest being a time of enormous creativity and potential, something like what happens in winter when all the activity is underground and unseen. We tend to focus on the exuberance of spring, but without the hidden work of winter, spring would never come. Be blessed in your dancing, dear friend – we’ll still be here when you come back, looking forward to drinking in your gorgeous writing again.

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:08 am #

      Lovely Joanna – so often your words appear to me as prophetic and timely, in just the right hour. It is somehow my secret hope that this will be a season of creativity – you’ve articulated it so well. And I have been thinking a lot on the seasons lately as a helpful way of viewing life. Thank you so much for these precious words and the love behind them.

  4. Simon Monk 24th April, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    Dear Tanya,

    Good luck with your journey into rest.

    The story reminded me of Jacob wrestling at Peniel (Gen. 32.22-32). The struggle is in darkness and although Jacob is injured, he is also blessed by his encounter with God.

    I’m a full time carer for my daughter who has a rare condition called Dravet Syndrome (a severe form of epilepsy and neurological disability). We often can’t leave home because she is too fragile. I am very lucky that for me, this time hasn’t been an absence but a presence – I’ve felt much closer to God in that time.

    I hope you find God waiting for you in that space between the notes,

    Best wishes,


    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Simon – thank you so much for sharing a snapshot of your life – I was deeply moved to read your reflections. I am so glad that this piece reminded you of Jacob wrestling – that passage has become very precious to me in the past few years.

      I am really thankful that God has been close to you during this hard time. I’m praying for you and your daughter this morning.

  5. Stephen Bazely 24th April, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Hi Tanya,
    Taking this step will be a real challenge, but as much as you and your posts may be missed, the reason for you absence online will be a strong and continuous message.
    I’ll pray for you to get better and that in the future you will be able to help others who cannot rest but desperately need to.
    God bless, Stephen

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:11 am #

      Stephen – how lovely to hear from you! Thank you for this wonderfully encouraging comment – I really appreciate it.

  6. Allan Dickinson 24th April, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    Thanks for this, Tanya; it’s something that I need to keep re-learning as well. I’m often challenged by translations of Psalm 23 which say “He makes me lie down in green pastures”, because we often only rest when we are forced to. So rest well as you dance with your darkness, and (God willing) I’ll be here when you’re back. x

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:12 am #

      Yes! I am also challenged by the ‘he makes me lie down’ verse – that is often how it feels! Thank you so much for commenting here and cheering me on.

  7. Beth 24th April, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    I adore your stick figures! And you. And your brave dancing. We will be here when you are ready to write in this space again. You are so loved.

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:13 am #

      Ha! I’m glad you like my ‘art’! Thank you for being such a rock. Xx

  8. Charity Erickson 24th April, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    There’s this worship song, and the finer points escape me now, but there is a repeated refrain that goes “these are but the fringes.” I think it’s speaking to both Job’s “these are but the fringes of God’s ways” and the Gospel narrative of the woman touching the hem of Christ’s garment. Whenever I’ve heard this song, I’ve gotten an image of the outskirts of the universe, where it is silent to us, where we are going, expanding, entering into an existence that didn’t exist just a fraction of a second ago. I don’t know what that all means, but I thought of it reading this post. Much love to you, friend!

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:15 am #

      First – thanks for being the first person to write something encouraging when I had published this in all trepidation.
      Second – every time I read what you wrote about the fringes, I cry. And I don’t even know exactly why. But it feels very God-y, and I’m chewing on it for a while. Thank you, dear friend.

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