The last 7 days have been exceptionally busy.
Last Thursday, Zoe’s school had a long University open day in which we decided that Zoe should have a gap year, and apply in 2014 for admission in 2015, rather than 2013 for 2014.
On Friday, I hosted a brunch for the women’s group I am co-leading, then had a meeting with my co-leader and the leader of the cluster group in St. Andrew’s, Oxford. St. Andrew’s has a lot of support, oversight (and meetings) for the leaders of small groups. My church in America had it too, and while it takes time both for leaders and those providing oversight, it prevents the painful toxic situations that regularly occurred in small groups in my previous Charismatic church in Oxford—so that’s good!
On Saturday, I spent the day in London with my university friend, Jane and her family.
On Monday, I had tea in the Kilns, C.S. Lewis’s beautiful house with the acting warden, Malissa Kilpatrick.
On Tuesday, I had a fascinating stimulating coffee at the Ashmolean with Malcolm Guite, poet and priest, talking about G.K. Chesterton and Charles Williams—about whom Malcolm knows an enormous amount and talks captivatingly and engagingly. Well, talks like a poet!!
Wednesday we spent at Tearfund’s headquarters in Teddington, near London. I was to have coffee today with an academic who teaches English, and is interested in women writers in particular, but both of us were shattered!!
And in between, we had our bedroom recarpeted, which meant taking out and putting back everything (well, our housekeeper did it, but some of it in the wrong places) and taking out and putting everything back in the garage, which we got carpeted as part of its transformation to a games room.
Interestingly, until today, when the strain of the unaccustomed extroversion told on me (I am basically an introvert, as, or more, energized by Bible reading, prayer, writing and reflection than by a party or coffee, though those energise me too) I was quite calm. Today, I declared a Sabbath, took the day off to rest and catch up with sleep, and decided to work on Sunday instead.
I’ve managed to write through this busy week, with two full days in London, producing both daily blog posts, and working on my memoir. I think it was because I managed to pray through the week.
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Praying when you are very busy is amazing. It’s like entering a tardis. You feel stressed when you enter it. The world seems too much with you. It presses in on you. There is simply too much to do, but you cannot do anything much because you are stressed.
And you enter the sacred zone of prayer, remove your shoes for you are on holy ground, and enter eternity: the presence of the Blazing Bush which burns and is never consumed. And it’s as if time pushes outwards, enlarges around you in silent, ever growing ripples, becomes unconcernedly silent and vast.
You enter deep peace. You are in some indefinable way changed and transformed, and can now face the challenges of your day steadily, methodically and with peace. When you leave your prayer room, it’s as if everything that happened before happened yesterday, and today is now a new day.
For me, praying when busy is no longer an option, but a necessity. I simply get too stressed to tidy the house for guests, to read or write or blog if I have been rushing around too much, or fretting, and need to take the time to rest, and soak in God’s presence until I am calm and clear-headed again.
* * *
Martin Luther wrote intriguingly “On a typical day I am charged with the pastorate of three congregations. I teach regularly at the seminary. I have students living in my house. I am writing three books. Countless people write to me. When I start each day, therefore, I make it a point to spend an hour in prayer with God. But if I have a particularly busy day, and am more rushed than usual, I make it a point to spend two hours with God before I start the day.”
Ah, there speaks a man who know what it was to rely on God!! And no doubt in prayer, God told him what to focus on in his seminal books. (Jack and Rose Marie Miller have been transformed, for instance, by Luther’s Commentaries on Galatians and Romans, and have transformed many others in turn through their Sonship Course). How to get to the heart of the matter with his students. How to deal with tricky pastoral issues. How to answer letters pithily, with no extra words, and which letters need not be answered. How to focus on his resident students intensely, but briefly.
And no doubt, prayer gave him peace and energy. Renewed him. He could work peacefully, efficiently and in a directed way for the rest of the day.
It’s one of those counter-intuitive things that show us that ultimately we don’t control our lives. That if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labour. I’ve been discovering recently that if I take the time to exercise vigorously for an hour the rest of my day is far more productive. Or if I have a 30 minute afternoon nap. Or a good night’s sleep. Or pray!!
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I am just learning to pray. I published an article in The Christian Century in 2000 called Learning to Pray, and now, 12 years later, I am still learning. I guess I will always be.
But it really is the most important time-management, productivity and efficiency tool. God through his goodness, in a session of desperate prayer five years ago, gave me a business idea which I could implement and enjoy implementing, and which now wholly supports my family. If I had not prayed, earning the same money would have taken thousands more hours!! He told me to blog during a prayer walk, and I have never enjoyed any sustainable work more than I enjoy blogging. (Well, I love writing poetry, but I know, from experience, I could not write poetry every day. Inspiration would run dry. I’d get bored!!)
I pray too about how to entertain, and frequently am given simple, doable menus, and tips on getting the house ready which are far, far simpler than what I would have done without prayer. God often tells me how to deal with my teenagers or husband or tricky people if I ask (though, sadly, I ask less often than I should!)
* * *
I wonder if we only really, really learn to pray when we reach the point of desperation, when we cannot do life on our own. Sadly, it was the case with me.
To be honest, the things I pray over are just the tip of the iceberg of the things I need to pray over—and that’s just in my own life!!
Balancing blogging and writing; how to do social media efficiently but not time-consumingly; mothering; being a friend to Roy; losing weight; waking early; financial decisions; garden decisions; house decisions; purchases…oh there is so much wisdom I need just for my own life, for starters, and yet, how slowly I learn the habit of praying over everything.
Oh what grace we often forfeit,
Oh what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry,
Everything to God in prayer…