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 (Link is an Amazon affiliate link). 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.
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:
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*.
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:
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.
I laughed out loud when I saw your stick figures! 🙂 You will be sorely missed! I do believe you have to take care of yourself before you can bless others and a blessing you always are. I pray that the rest will restore. I do believe that even in rest it may be a fertile time for you as you grow ideas in your mind, water them, and have them grow. You may not be sharing them but I’m sure you will be cultivating them for later. I do think you have to embrace hurt, pain, and fears in order to deal with them. If you push them away they eventually come back and sometimes worse than before. So dance with the things you fear, and the things that hurt. Learn how you can take the lead in that dance and move across the floor on your path. I know when I am listening to a song I love and a pause occurs then the result is an anticipation that the beauty will return and sometimes in a more dramatic fashion. This I believe will be you.
I will wait in anticipation. I’ll check for you often. May your rest be a blessing.
Mark, thank you so much for this. And I think you’re right – that already I can see a lot of creativity that seems to be growing in me, just beneath the surface.
thanks for waiting. 🙂
Oh friend. I don’t even know what to say except yes. Yes, this is beautiful truth right here. A reexamining of rest to be as God intended. So many lines I wanted to pull and quote back to you but in the end, you are choosing the better part. As Mary and Martha struggle inside of you to do the things you love, to serve the way you so ably can, you need Jesus’s healing touch as you sit at his feet. The presence of peace and wholeness, not a punishment but a place to find sanctuary. Praying for you as you continue this journey.
Oh yes – the internal Mary and Martha – you speak truth into me, Alia joy. Thank you so much for supporting me, for seeing me. Much love to you. x
Love, love, love this Tanya. It inspires and encourages me to rest well alongside you (albeit several hundred miles away!). The idea of ‘dancing with the darkness’ is so powerful. I have been thinking a lot recently about the idea of ‘suffering redeemed’. Not suffering avoided, miracle healings, or easy answers, but the sometimes much more powerful testimony of engaging with suffering and finding a way of creatively living with it in a way which acknowledges the pain but still glorifies God. How we can live this. This encapsulates it exactly. Dancing has been so important in my relationship with God and my journey in healing and through illness. I need to learn what it means to dance when I cannot physically dance, and to dance with the things I struggle with. Need to hold onto this and reread regularly. I pray that dancing with the darkness will bring you joy and strength.
“I need to learn what it means to dance when I cannot physically dance” – oh boy. me too. I so appreciate your friendship and solidarity in this journey. Thank you.
Wow Tanya – beautiful words. I’ve only recently come across your blog but read enough to say yes, you will be missed, but can also see there is a supportive community of compassion and understanding here who will stand with you in your rest time as in your writing times. I know well the need for rest and the urge to not do it when I need to, instead trying to be as busy as my body lets me, and the frustration of the enforced rest – and yet in those times have sometimes found the most profound connections with God and the peace I craved in ‘the noise’. With love and prayers for your rest, take all you need and be kind to yourself.
Hello, lovely Liz! I’m so glad you found my blog – and you’re right, the community that have gathered around these pages are extraordinarily compassionate, and I am very thankful for them! Thank you so much for your prayers for my rest – I know you know how tough it is. xx
Tanya, you will be missed, but we will certainly all be here waiting for you.
Resting in God is absolutely not doing nothing. Phil need to listen to the still small voice that says come to me and I’ll carry you through this.
I love the idea of dancing with the the fear, much better than feel the fear and do it anyway.
Praying that you will receive the rest, peace and healing that you need x
You’re right – dancing with the fear is very different, and much better than ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Thank you so much for your prayers, Tricia – I so appreciate your ongoing support.
It *is* boring. There are lots of ways to alleviate the boredom, but alleviating it takes away from resting, doesn’t it? Sometimes we can get away with that, sometimes we can’t – and all of us have a different balance point. I can’t think of anyone I know with ME who doesn’t squeeze in as much as possible to her life – it is immensely difficult to get what we need out of our limited energy and also give up the attempt to keep up with the “normals” somehow, in one facet or another of our existence. But our attempts at that are doomed to insufficiency, and I think our happiness depends on accepting it. Not that we consistently succeed!
That said, I have always been amazed at *how much* you blog, given your description of your energy level and the other obligations and plans you have. I know it’s hard to give up a level of engagement you’re used to – it feels like another big scary loss, in a circumstance where you’ve had too many of those already. But you can still stay engaged other ways. Some of us blog once a month, tops, and people still seem to come around to read. 😉 There’s always facebook and twitter – for me, I think fb provides a better ratio of togetherness to energy expenditure than blogging does. And if you decide you want to come back to blogging like you have been, I promise you the internet will be here!
Thanks so much for commenting, Jocelyn – I really value you using your energy to comment here. As ever, you describe how it is with ME just perfectly. it IS boring. Thank you for saying that. I think some people find it so hard to understand why a therapy as simple as rest can be so hard to implement.
And thank you for your encouragement on how much i have done. I think i need to recognise that I have been doing too much, blogging-wise. Meanwhile, at home, Jon has been taking on more and more, and the time I spend with my boy has been slowly dwindling, and the amount I can walk around the house has been ever-diminishing. I’ve had a good quality of life, because I love writing, but it has had its costs. Thanks for reminding me that some of my favourite bloggers only update their blogs once a month 🙂
I love this. Enjoy your break. We’ll be here when you get back.
thank you, Wendy! x
I am in tears reading your post. I am so deeply moved, so much of it has resonated with me. Like you, I fear rest. Whilst I don’t have ME, I do understand how hard exhaustion, constant pain and limited ability to move is. I have joint hypermobility, which affects so many of my joints, and brings so much pain and exhaustion with it. I am unable to work and I’m waiting for surgery on my knee to stop the recurrent dislocations. It is also a huge struggle to find medical professionals who understand and don’t just assume I am depressed. Your blog posts have been such a lifeline to me and my only real wish was that I had found your blog sooner.
I find rest so difficult and much of what you described, I have thought too. Rest is dull, boring, a chore even. When reading your post, I was reminded of Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” God gives us rest. If God gives us rest, then it cannot be a bad thing. In fact, it must be a good thing. I think you are so brave for embracing your fear and your courage has inspired me to do likewise. I need to slow down, take a break, rest and be with God.
I’ll be praying for you, and I’ll definitely still be here when you get back. Take care of yourself.
Oh Hannah, I felt moved along with you as I read your comment. Joint hypermobility – is that EDS? That illness has so much in common with ME. I’m really hoping you’ll get your surgery soon and that it will make a big difference to you.
and thank you for reminding me of Matt 11:28 – you’re right – if God gives us rest, it cannot be a bad thing. It’s hard to change our mindset, but so powerful, isn’t it? Sending you much love xx
Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, joint hypermobility is EDS – one form of it anyway. I have seen the similarity between it and ME, and it is so reassuring that you do too. Sometimes I feel like I’m a bit of a fraud; I don’t have ME. The truth is that your posts do resonate with me and have inspired me. I now have a date for my surgery (14th May); that will certainly force me to rest! It is never easy changing a mindset but it is not impossible, and I am in no doubt that with God’s love and grace we can achieve the seemingly impossible.
Sending much love back to you and hoping that you are finding true rest xx