Dancing with the darkness

dancing with the darkness (Creative Commons licence)

dancing with the darkness (Creative Commons licence)

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.

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. Heather 28th April, 2014 at 12:02 am #

      We will absolutely be here when you return. Taking care of your health is just so important and I hope you find the right (treatment? medicine? not really sure) that you need. I’m with you on wanting to fill space and not enjoying rest so I do pray it’ll be a “full” and peaceful rest for you.

      and hmmm….this piano teacher just learned some new British music words.

      Thanks for sharing this.

    2. Rebecka 27th April, 2014 at 11:58 am #

      Oh, lovely Tanya, how this spoke to me!
      First, I just want to say I admire you for making this decision. It is not an easy one to make! “Rest feels more like a punishment than a privilege.” Yes, yes, yes, it really does! My word 365 this year is “rest”. I wanted to learn to give my body the rest it needs and to learn to rest in God. I have to confess, so far, it’s not going well…
      I think I also think of rest as an absence, but the other day I read a quote by a friend with ME; “To use up less energy than you have, so that you leave some energy for the body’s healing process. (That’s the hardest part.)” Perhaps I need to think of rest not as an absence, but as healing.
      You have inspired me to approach resting differently. Thank you! I love the way you put it; “fulfilment, peace, an ongoing state of wholeness”. This rest, this Shalom, is what I pray we will both find!
      Oh, and of course I’ll still be here! Xx

    3. Jamie Wright Bagley 26th April, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      Hey, lovely. I am a couple days behind on my blog reading, but I am finally catching up. Resting myself today on this Saturday, as the week has been exceptionally challenging. I want you especially to know I am subscribed so I will be here exactly when you are ready to come back. I wouldn’t miss it. I will miss your voice here. You’re in my heart and on my mind, whether you’re blogging or not. Much love to you and may you find unexpected joy and treasure in the art of resting well. Peace, grace, hope. <3

    4. Liz Eph 25th April, 2014 at 10:00 am #


      you are so doing the right thing, but I will so miss you. xx

    5. Esther Emery 25th April, 2014 at 7:33 am #

      Rest is counterculture. Rest is rebellion. Rest is the path less travelled. And there is a kind of rest that is synonymous with the spiritual path. I’m proud of you for doing this, for doing it publicly and for doing it without shrinking from the unknown consequences. Eshet chayil.

    6. Penelope Swithinbank 25th April, 2014 at 4:05 am #

      Lovely lady – bless you for your honesty and vulnerability. And braveness.
      It seems to me that too many of us work and wrestle and then collapse into “rest.” Instead we need to learn to rest, and work out of that restfulness. The ‘rest’ comes first – as in the Jewish day which began with rest and family and a meal together and a good night’s sleep before the day’s work.

      cf Genesis 1 which talks of there being evening and morning to a day. The rest comes first!

      So you are being Biblical, I would say, and reminding everyone else that the rest is important – and you will be modelling that to us. I know your illness is causing you to be in a different situation to ‘normal’ and this is not what you would choose; and yet your modelling of this is I feel most important and a good reminder to others of this important priority.

      Rest well. We will be here as and when you are able to return!

    7. Cathy Fischer 25th April, 2014 at 12:29 am #

      Everyone is so eloquent, and frankly, I just feel sad to think of not have your voice enlightening my day. My sweet, gifted, far-away friend. But I get it, and have done a variation of the same as often as necessary. If you know that this is what you need to do in the way you describe it, then it is about listening to that voice, and I know you (and we) will be blessed beyond measure.

      I’m sure I’m not the only reader who has depended on you and other bloggers for a sense of community and companionship when our lives were limited in whatever way. Recently, my life has expanded: after being single for 15 yrs, I am no more. In fact, I am dating a man whose own life has been limited in many ways. So we appreciate each other very much. All this to say that I think we should do with our lives what is being presented to us. I hope you learn all that you are to learn through this time of rest. And PS, if September rolls around and your rest needs an extension, then so be it.

      Looking forward to hearing all about it in the future.

    8. Jo Inglis 24th April, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

      I learnt this song after unravelling from Ian being a minister 20yrs & 18 months out of work https://www.weareworship.com/uk/songs/song-library/showsong/1815
      Shall remember you when I sing it (which is often) & pray that you are able to drink deeply from Him x

      • Jessica Sideways 1st May, 2014 at 7:25 am #

        This comment was offensive and has been deleted.

      • Tanya 10th May, 2014 at 10:58 am #

        Oh, I love this song. This is such a good song for my retreating. Thanks for reminding me of it. I shall play it today. Much love to you x

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