Well, slowly I am learning to live within my capacities, which means realising I have to plan my day a bit so that I don’t get too tired by trying to do too much. That is actually new for me. I never gave any ground to feeling tired before I had to stop work. In 33 years I hardly ever said “no” to anything or to anyone who asked anything of me as a minister, even if it meant really having to push myself to do something way beyond what might reasonably be asked of me. I always worked hard , very much so, though I don’t think I was ever a “workaholic.” However, I know I took upon myself a false responsibility: if I said “no” at all, someone would feel rejected or uncared for. So realising I have to say “no” to something each day now in order to be able to do other things that matter is slowly becoming a new way of thinking, though it is not yet completely natural to me and is still attended by a quiet background tune of “guilt,” which is mercifully becoming quieter by the week. I think God honours my new approach to me and is much more approving of it right now than I am yet.
Not so long ago, I was due to meet someone for a coffee in Brown’s next door to 121 George Street (The offices of the Church of Scotland) in Edinburgh. This person has been an immeasurable help to me in recent months helping me think through some of my feelings about early retirement, my reactions to coping with ill health, etc. They have shown me huge kindness and I have benefited from their godly wisdom and thoughtful listening and interventions into my verbal ramblings. They have given and still give of their time to me so freely and generously. I knew it would be a blessed time. However as I waited at a bus-stop to head off for that meeting, I saw someone who is very friendly and chatty waiting for the bus too – nothing to do with any church I might add. I hid in the queue from them and hoped they would not see me! I knew that I just would not be able to chat all the way into the city centre of Edinburgh without risking losing some of the benefit of the meeting planned for Brown’s. I felt guilty, weak, pathetic and slightly cowardly for being that way. I never prayed about the situation in a direct way. I simply said, “Lord, you know I just cannot cope with friendly but lengthy conversation and chat right now. I know I have not got the strength or the energy for that today.” The very next minute I saw the person walking away from the bus-stop and they never came back! I have no idea why! One day I may have the energy to talk to them and ask them… but then again…maybe not the best idea!
Listen, I try and steer miles clear of “using” God for my advantage. I would never have prayed, “Move that person away, Lord.” I simply expressed how I was feeling to my Father in Heaven. For some reason Psalm 33 has been meaning a lot to me lately. It tells me that the unfailing love of the Lord is everywhere and that He is my shield. Somehow I knew that unfailing love had been shielding me. I also felt that unfailing love could be trusted not to manipulate that other person.
I honestly think that incident at the bus-stop was God giving an “Amen” to the new way I am learning to give regard to myself, in terms of capacity and limitation. I think it honours Him as the Father who cares for His children that I am learning to treat myself as someone whose wellbeing matters. I have been slow to believe that. For me now, it is getting to the stage where I know it would be a sin against God to disregard this human being, Kenny, as much as it would be to have no care for another human being.
In the past I knew there were times I could push myself with no drastic results and times when I pushed myself to my own detriment. I pushed against this lung condition to the point where I had pushed too far, though always keeping a smile on my face. Now pushing even slightly beyond capacity can make me feel worryingly breathless, shaky and out of sorts for longer than seems to make sense to me. There seems to be a very thin line between managing and not managing and I have not yet worked out in every situation where that line is and can suddenly hit a wall. However what happened at the bus-stop helped me to believe that God honours me when I try and treat myself with consideration. He cares for us. We matter to Him.
So, a question or two:
1: Do you realise you are allowed to say, “No,” to people or even to what seem like good opportunities to which a good Christian worth their salt should surely say, “Yes”? There may be someone or something that needs you to speak your “No” this very day or night without you feeling guilty as you do so.
2: Are you being kind to yourself? I am not talking about being kind to our sinful inclinations by indulging those inclinations; Paul told us that such things are to be disciplined and kept under control with the strictness of someone who fights or runs to win. I am talking about honouring your own God made humanity, acknowledging where you are right now in terms of your actual levels of energy and health of body, soul and spirit. Live up to that as fully as possible, but don’t make a habit of pushing beyond that or allowing even well intentioned friends or even Christian leaders to push you beyond that. You might momentarily please someone else, but sooner or later it will lead to a collapse of your body, soul or spirit, or even a crash of all 3.
There was a slight fear in me as that person walked away from the bus stop. I knew somehow it was because God cared for me, but somehow it made me fear Him too, in the right way. He is really close and actively involved in our lives, knowing even our thoughts. He really does act and intervene on behalf of his children. He is not a force or spiritual power or energy flitting about somewhere. He is Abba, Father. Later on in the day, I looked back and was wondering yet again if I had strayed into manipulation (which is really witchcraft of sorts), somehow wanting to control “God” to my benefit, regardless of other people. Right at that point I felt His gentle, familiar presence and peace and reassurance, which has surprised me so often in this phase of my life. I still don’t have a complete theological framework to work out what happened. Whatever I try and write about the bus-stop seems wrong in some way to my theological sensitivities! I do know as I have already said that it happened that way because of the unfailing love of the Lord; because that love is the shield that surrounds me and everyone who trusts in Him. It happened because My Heavenly Abba is more in tune with me, with His beloved child, than I am with me: He cares for me with a greater compassion than I can yet freely and easily offer myself… but at least I am on that journey! Are you?
P.S. You might want to read Psalm 33 sometime soon. I can’t say I ever rated it as one of my favourite psalms, but it is becoming so. May you be blessed if you choose to read it. How could you not be? It is God breathed.
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I found this so helpful Kenny as I struggle to say no and as I gradually recover from my thing and the mind starts to think and process better I find excitement coming with possibilities but your right we all have to realise our limitations in every area and not draw continually from the reserves out of misplaced guilt or the expectations of others or in my case my own driving force to want to do more for the kingdom. I’m not good at being kind to myself or caring for my body but I am learning, this was the very thing God spoke to me about after my accident 5 years ago, it has taken time and further illness for me to stop and really listen to what my Father is saying and to realise how much he cares for me. Limitations are very frustrating but resting in God is a gift and a joy and I am learning to agree with him and submit Psalm 33
We wait in hope for the Lord, He is our help and our shield.’