Monday, June 30, 2014

Looking for Those Lazy Days of Summer

by Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Staff

When I was a kid, summer meant long days of sunshine, spending time exploring the great outdoors, reading trashy novels, sleeping in as late as I wanted, and, most of all, being really, really bored. I remember hours and hours of lying in the back yard or on the floor of my bedroom, just staring into space. Not really thinking, not really day-dreaming, just BEING. As my family used to say, “You're just up there occupying space.” I could not agree more; I was practicing the fine art of resting. I was really, really good at it, too. I also spent time painting, writing, exploring, learning, and becoming more myself. It was an incredible luxury to have such time.

I seem to have forgotten how to rest. Over the years, I have become haunted by my never-ending To Do List. It lurks in every corner of my house, it finds me in the shower, it even chases me in my dreams. I can't get away from it, no matter how many times I try to slay the beast. There is always an email to answer, a phone call to make, a teleconference to participate in, an event to build, or travel arrangements to make. I also have a toddler screaming “MAMA!” in the next room, and a baby who has yet to come out and greet the world (who somehow manages to take a lot of time and energy, anyway). I pass a guy I once knew as my husband in the kitchen occasionally. And friends? You mean those people to whom I send thank you notes? I sure hope they remember me fondly.

Luckily, I have a plan. When I was pregnant with my first child, Ian, I was in the middle of changing jobs and moving 2500 miles across the country. My To Do List could not have been longer. I wanted to make sure I had everything written down before I left my old position while preparing for the new one. I also had a house to pack and clean. My due date came and went. A week passed, then two. I continued to scramble to get all of my work done, thinking I was being gifted with extra time. I also started to think I was never going to have that baby!

One day, though, I just stopped. I just stopped working and went into my bedroom. My husband asked if I was going to come out, and I just said, “No.” I had no intention of coming out. Four weeks past my due date, I was done. I surely wasn't finished, but I was utterly and completely DONE. So I allowed my body to remember those lazy days of summer (it was June, after all), and I went into my bedroom, laid down, and just stared at the ceiling. I just rested. I let go. I became more me. And then a miraculous thing happened: I went into labor! Soon I had a beautiful baby boy in my arms, and everything melted away but him and me. It was a blissful, lovey, exhausting, beautiful time. He and I spent tons of time just lying around, staring at the ceiling or at each other, and it was perfection.

All of that work I had to do was magically finished somehow, at some time. Some of it waited weeks, and some of it waited months, but it all got completed in a satisfactory fashion. And no one was seriously hurt in the process. The world did not end, and even though I had a newborn to take care of, somehow I felt like I had more resources than I did before. Once I rested, the tasks seemed smaller and more manageable. More importantly, even without regular sleep, my creativity returned in ways I couldn't have imagined before.

Now it is July, two years later. Again, I am in the same position. The due date of my second child is approaching in a few weeks, and I continue to struggle with my To Do List, making sure every item is crossed off, forgetting completely how to rest. Every night I wake up in the middle of the night remembering something I didn't have time to get to, not to mention the dirty dishes in the sink and the laundry that needs folding. I also know that soon, it will be time to be done, and I will stop working and let the labor begin. I will trust that things will get done, and I will rest.

A few weeks ago, I put these questions out on Facebook: How do you rest? How do you rebuild? How do you gather your resources for work? Among the most common answers were sleep, art, music, or exercise. All wise choices. By far, I believe we all need spiritual practices in our lives---those activities we do with intention, regularity, and depth---to give our brains a chance to rest, to stare at the ceiling metaphorically (if not actually), and to gather our internal resources for the work that lies ahead of us.

We tend to vilify idleness by saying that it is laziness. As the old saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil's playground.” Science has shown, however, that taking time to rest and rejuvenate regularly and often actually improves our productivity and our creativity, allowing us to be better problem solvers and stewards.

Soon, I will be resting and I hope to rest very, very well. From July 7 (at the latest) until September 1, I will be taking maternity leave (list be done or not!). During that time, any congregation or leader who is used to working with me can contact The Rev. Susan Smith, whose contact information can be found on the Southern Region website. I will be using those weeks to lie in bed with my new family and wonder at all the work it took for them to get there. I promise to return to you having slept much less, but rested much more.

I encourage you to take a little time this summer to find those Lazy Days. We all need to recognize when we are DONE, if not finished, and when we need to end our work so the real labor can begin, whatever that labor in your life may be. The importance of stopping the day-to-day business in order to give birth to more creativity cannot be overstated. The To Do List will, in fact, wait.

***Editor's note: Ayla Rose Briscoe was born this weekend! The Southern Region staff sends wishes for rest and every other blessing to Natalie and her family.