My husband took away my phone the other day.
Okay, that’s not true. I was on my phone, chillaxin’ on the couch, when he told me he thought it would be better for my mental health if I wasn’t on Facebook so much.
And I scoffed and sputtered and grumped and grimaced. Such a judgmental man, how dare he!
But as soon as he left the room, I put away my phone. I did some chores, studied some Hebrew, made some food. And had a much better rest of my day.
Social media is my hatchet these days, my weapon, my sword. There is a lot to be challenged by way of policies and rhetoric and how we describe or denigrate one another. There is much to be denounced and protested and torn down.
I know what I want to tear down: misogyny, xenophobia, fear-mongering, disrespect. I want to tear down baseless suspicions that render hearts implacable and cold.
The tearing down is easy. It’s clear. It’s precise.
But what do I want to build?
I don’t have to look far to answer that question. I see my kids in their coming and going, their fighting and snuggling, and I know I want to build up my life with them. I want to slow down enough to hear them out and help them to hear out others, too. I want to build a home that is safe, both physically and intellectually, where they can ask questions and sort out their troubles in the confidence that their parents love and care for and respect them. I want to build my home as a place of nourishment, where my kids can be fed in their bellies and fed in their hearts so that, whatever they face when they leave, they go out better and stronger than when they came first came through the door.
I want to build up my marriage. By the grace of God I still adore the brown-eyed, teasing, still sometimes inscrutable man I married fifteen years ago. And yes, I adore him in spite of the fact that we have both changed—kids, career, loss, and illness can’t help but change you. There has been some terrible pain along the way; things to forgive, things for which to be forgiven. But we are in this thing--this whacky, terrifying, upending thing called life--together. 100%. And I want to build our marriage over the next 15 years to be even stronger and more life-giving than the first fifteen have been.
I want to build a stronger community around me. And that doesn’t mean going out and laying the foundation for The Next Big Thing, be it a program or organization or whatever. It means putting time into some of the many good things that are already taking place. It means hearing people's stories and telling my own. It means taking the bus more than driving alone and watching out for my neighbours, both literal and figurative. It means keeping well enough to gather with people at church, at our neighbourhood house, at the soccer field or at the boys’ schools. It means accepting invitations and extending more of my own. It means volunteering with organisations that make our neighbourhood, our city, our country more connected, even if just an hour or two a week.
I want to build up my own strength. I want to get well again, and if it means putting away my phone then good, I'll put it away (thanks hon!) If it means reading a book instead of downloading another hair-raising article, then okay, I'll read the book. If it means yes, engaging online or in person in these days when such engagement is necessary, then good; but if it means disengaging when appropriate and disengaging as a matter of discipline and health then I will strive to do that, too. Because everything else I want to build up--my home, my kids, my marriage, my community--is impacted if I don't make the effort to keep myself well. It is good and holy work to keep oneself well; to build up one's strength, to keep nourished in mind and body. If I have learned anything in this past year and a half, it is that.
What do you want to build? And with whom do you want to build it? In a time when so much calls to be halted or torn down, what calls out to you to be tended or built up? The writer of Ecclesiastes makes clear that there are time to do both! To build up and to tear down. And sometimes there are times for doing both at the same time.
May the building up of what is good and the tearing down of what is not be clear. And may you and I have strength for the tasks, amen and amen.
The house is almost completely still. The heater has just kicked on behind me, but the kids are at school and our super cool, very old dog is fast asleep at my feet. No one is talking to me. No one is clinging to me. No one is fighting with anyone else.
And. Every. Muscle. Every. Cell. Has. Settled. Into. The. Silence.
Quiet and stillness are saving my life right now. Or at least restoring it to me before the beautiful, noisy madness descends again. My cousin helpfully pointed out the life-saving nature of quiet in a world inundated with noise; even more in the age of the iPod, the radio, the Wii.
When I was working full-time and on the path to burnout, I had one day off every week. I spent it with my youngest two children at home, mostly doing housework but also some play. It was time for which I was grateful but which was, unsurprisingly, completely absent of anything like quiet and rest.
When I went on medical leave, the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was when, unwell at home, I was all alone. And that quiet, paid for two days a week with my daughter being cared for by her babysitter, helped bring me back to life.
To this day, quiet and rest are saving my life.
What is saving your life right now?
Barbara Brown Taylor was asked that question after exiting ministry, and I find myself returning to it often these days. The unwelcome drama of US politics and my own obsession with it has stilted my recovery; I respond frantically, with more writing, some marching, phone calls to officials, and less sleeping. I am frequently tense and strained.
My husband says I should stay off of my smart phone, opting out of my habit of gorging on news and jumping into online conflict. And of course he is right. But I am also looking for things to hold onto; bits of joy or steadiness that can keep me afloat. In the deluge of bad news, it is easy to get overwhelmed and be blinded to what is present and normal and beautiful.
So what what else is saving my life these days? And what is saving yours?
My children, as usual, are saving my life. The oldest two are keenly interested in the politics that keep me up at night, but at the end of the day, the needs and interests of all four draw me into the most life-giving tasks I have: grocery shopping for their lunches and dinners; trudging with them through the snow on our way home from school; reading fairy tales to my littlest ones before putting them to bed (which still requires snuggles from Mommy before they can go to sleep); giving my full attention to my more-often-listening-than-listened-to second son and being amazed at his emotional intelligence and self-knowledge; reading a book next to my oldest son after everyone else is in bed while he, my most social of social butterflies, does his homework (he says it helps to have someone around, even if we're not talking).
My children are saving my life right now.
What is saving your life?
Books are saving my life right now, as they have before and no doubt will until I die. I read article upon article these days about this or that travesty of justice, but they leave me spinning like a top, ready to crash to the ground at any moment. Books--good-books--pull me upright when life has me bowed to the ground. My sense of perspective and purpose grows steadier when rooted in the words of the great storytellers, teachers and leaders who put them to paper.
I have multiple books that have passed in and out of my house these past months courtesy of our local public library. In between, I turn back to my favourite re-reads: at the moment it is Harry Potter, which seems appropriate given the real-time takeover of the Muggle government in my country of birth. Harry's story pulls me just enough out of my own [sudden thought: I am living my own story! YOU are living your own story!] that I can reenter less burdened by the heaviness of all that is happening around the world.
Books are saving my life right now.
What is saving your life?
Preparing for our impending trip to Israel is saving my life right now. I have taken to daily Hebrew practice and could swear I gain a few years of life every time I do. Dag, fish! Bitzah, egg! Anachnu ohevim basar, we love meat! I started studying Hebrew when I was 18 years old so it settled nicely in my then-squishy brain. I still throw it at my children and husband or the vacuum/printer when it feels appropriate: "Mah zeh?" (What's this?) "B'emet?" (Really?) Akhshav! (Now!) They tolerate it (albeit with rolled eyes) and sometimes even verbally respond. But I am excited to use the language again among people who actually speak it.
(Thinking about this cracks me up; my poor family, they put up with so much living with me.)
Practicing Hebrew is saving my life right now.
What is saving your life?
Followers of Jesus tend to think of salvation only in terms of The Big Things. And, to be sure, there are good reasons for it. But for me, right now, it is the little things that, woven together, lift up my head and set my feet more firmly on the path that is my own. As one who believes in a God-made-flesh, in eternity wrapped up in tiny mortality, receiving life and power in the small and ordinary is a perfectly logical, perfectly magnificent way to be saved.