Lent: Breathing Space

Submitted by Victoria on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 17:00

Is busy-ness the same as stress? Is distraction the same as rest?

Stress. I don’t know about you, but I had a perception that stress was related to activity: the more you do, the more stressed you are. I now no longer believe that to be exactly right. I’ve been inspired partly by a fantastic workshop at the SCM conference on the Columbian art of ‘living well’ – and partly by my own experience of a busy Saturday.

The Saturday before last, I was left in sole charge of our new, boisterous (to put it kindly) puppy. So the morning began by getting up and taking the dog for a muddy walk. I then decided to bake some bread, tidy the kitchen and make a pasta sauce. I paid a visit to our local fishmonger to buy dinner for the evening, came back and feasted on my freshly-baked bread for lunch. By this time, the dog needed another walk. Upon my return, I dug out the paints I hadn’t used for months and spent some time painting with my little sister, who’s ten. Then I made two chocolate cakes (one gluten free chocolate and almond, one chocolate marble cake for those of you who, like me, always need more detail when it comes to cake) for a celebration at church the next day, and then set to work making dinner.

This is much more than I usually do on the average Saturday. But actually, rather than crashing at the end of the day, I felt contented and relaxed. And I’m completely convinced that this is because all these activities of conversation, outdoor activity, creativity, good food and companionable silence left little room for phones or screens and were infinitely more rewarding and restoring.

Now I’m not expecting to pass the rest of my life in an idyll of baking, walking and painting. Working in my case usually means spending a lot of time with a computer. Life is busy and messy and all too rarely involves icing sugar and paintbrushes. But that Saturday did show me something new: I thought that distraction was restful but it turns out that it’s completely the opposite. Simplifying our lives, doing one thing at a time (even if it's quite a mundane thing like tidying the kitchen), can nourish the soul and allow us to draw closer to God and to our identity as humans made in God’s image - humans who are creative, free and thinking.

And it occured to me: isn’t this part of what Lent is about? It’s a time when we remember Jesus’s withdrawal to the wilderness: to a life of simplicity at its very starkest and most challenging. It’s a time when many people (try to) put aside one part of their usual life as a way of focusing their mind on God. It is considered to be an opportunity for self- examination: the very thing that so many aspects of modern life try to prevent (or at least succeeds in preventing, whatever the intention). To do any of these things – live simply, focus, reflect – we need to create breathing space in our lives. So, throughout Lent I will be posting a series of blogs on how we might create this ‘breathing space’. I write as the opposite of an expert – as a beginner, who in my work and in my rest is hoping to live this Lent (and this life) a bit differently.

Tags: lent resources