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. Β It’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. Janice 24th April, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    1. The crotchet rest is just the most beautiful shape. It always seemed so elegant and graceful pausing there between all the round, black notes. Since the notes let their sound hold their beauty, someone long ago must have decided that the silent rest needed its own visual beauty… Interesting thought that only the musician gets to see that beauty. The rest of the world just notices the absence of the sound, but the maker of the music gets to see the loveliness of that pause. Sort of like a tiny, private gift from the music to its maker.

    2. There is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that it will be September in only 4 months. I refuse to believe it.

    3. This is a very wise decision and my only sadness is purely selfish because I like reading your blog. (I’ve been mulling over my comment to your Gethsemene post since it posted. Ready yourself for an email when I finally sort out my thoughts.) The bigger part of me (well, bigger in maturity, not necessarily bigger in the amount of myself which is made up by it – because I’m pretty sure that my selfishness WAY outweighs my mature parts…) is so glad for you and does hope that it is restful. And that your mind can follow your will during the rest and not pester you continually with all the “could-do-doings” but will just be content with the fact that resting is so beautiful.

    4. You know we moved to the mountains last year and I have to say that living out of the city I am amazed by the fact that God’s world rests SO often. Take out our busy culture and the world is so PEACEFUL. And quiet. And it just keeps inviting me to sit my hurried butt down and close my eyes and face the sun because it keeps suggesting that I am missing the point.

    5. You know I’ll be here. πŸ™‚

    • Tanya 10th May, 2014 at 11:25 am #

      I love all of these.
      1. What you wrote about the crotchet rest is so beautiful – and spot on. I like the thought that it is a secret only known by musicians.
      2. I KNOW!! tell me about it. Cray-cray.
      3. I always, always love your emails. I know I am SUPREMELY useless when it comes to replying but I wanted to say for the record how blessed I am every time i hear from you.
      4. God’s world rests. This is worth thinking on awhile. thank you.
      5. πŸ™‚ I’m glad.

  2. Anna Wood 24th April, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    so many things I want to say – and not enough energy to write the. One thing that helped me, was reading an article about getting a work life balance – the author said that it is impossible to this on a day to day basis, but instead you should think longer term – weeks or months. So rather than trying to get a continuous balance between the things you want to do eg. a)rest and b)write a book and c)do a blog you focus on just one for a few months, then another then another etc – that way you don’t feel guilty about not doing the others and you get balance over the course of time. You had a fabulous year on your blog, now it is time to rest for bit. And ofcourse we will be here when you get back.

    • Tanya 10th May, 2014 at 11:26 am #

      Anna – this is such helpful advice. because it is SO difficult to do things on a day to day basis. I’m thinking long-term. thank you.

  3. Natalie Hart 24th April, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    I think God offers us rest more often than we care to admit — it takes so much courage to do what you’re doing. I pray that God blesses it in the most ridiculously measurable ways, ways you didn’t even dream of when you said your “yes” to rest as “quivering, shimmering, fire-like invitation.” That phrase gives me goosebumps; there’s power there.

    • Tanya 10th May, 2014 at 11:27 am #

      this prayer made me cry. thank you, Natalie.

  4. Jess 24th April, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Best of luck with Project Get Better. I took a break from my university course for 7 months at the end of January to look after myself, so I can empathise with how it feels to leave something you love to look after yourself and invest in getting better- it’s hard, but it becomes essential and unavoidable. I feel the same about rest too, I find it hard to embrace it and see it as a positive thing..
    Gentle hugs, take care,
    Jess | jesscfs.blogspot.com

  5. Caiobhe 24th April, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I love that you have chosen Project Get Better. Project Shalom. I am glad that part of you felt the relief of that as well as the challenge to accept that choice. Your post made me cry – the surrender is sometimes the very best moment we have had in a long time. You know that I love your writing, but it’s still there in the archives and it will be there again. A crotchet rest is the way to go . with love <3

    • Tanya 10th May, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      Thank you, dear beautiful-one. The surrender has indeed brought freedom, so far. (and thank you for pointing out that there is always the archives!!) Sending you much love. x

  6. Pam Smith 24th April, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I’ve subscribed to your blog so I don’t miss your once a month update Tanya!

    I can understand that fear of letting go of what you already have when you’re not sure what will happen – but absolutely sure that sometimes God just tells us to REST.

    Pam x

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      Thank you Pam – for caring, and for staying in touch. X

  7. Sheridan Voysey 24th April, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    That is a very wise choice, Tanya. Your once-a-month post will still provide a creative outlet but your body will get its needed rest. Well done for taking this courageous step and modelling rest to others who need it too.

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      Thanks so much for affirming the wisdom of this. It means a lot that you took the time to comment. Cheering you on in your blogging and book-writing endeavours!

  8. James Taylor 24th April, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    What a courageous and honest announcement. Thank you also for helping me with my own current challenges (which are much less severe!) by sharing your own honest reflections.

    • Tanya 13th May, 2014 at 10:03 am #

      I’m so encouraged that my words helped you. Thank you for telling me.

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