I’m exhausted and signed off work sick and I’m not doing anything busy to earn anyone’s approval at all. In fact, by being off work, I’m creating hassle and work for others, the complete opposite of what I would normally aim to do. My Protestant Work Ethic lies in pieces on the floor.
I’ve worked hard all my life to earn approval, to be useful so that people will value me. To be a good listener, a good friend, a good vicar, so I will be loved. I’ve projected this attitude onto God, too. I must work hard, do lots of stuff for God, and then God will love me. In theory, I know that God loves me, no matter what, but love is an abstract concept. Love can be aloof or theoretical or stern or “cruel to be kind”. Approval must be earned, and I’ve been a busy girl trying to earn it.
Yet, oddly, now that I’ve had to stop completely, this is the time when I’ve been most aware of other people’s care and love.
I have friends who listen and give me time and attention, even when it’s uncomfortable stuff to hear. And it occurs to me that surely God is at least as kind as those friends are.
There are others who have sent messages, cards and flowers. Even people I’ve never met in person, saying I popped into their head while they were praying, so they took the time to get in touch, so I would know they were thinking of me and praying. Surely God is at least as thoughtful at these people.
Then there are my congregation, many of whom have told me, “Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine, just take all the time you need to get well again, that’s what matters.” I’m left thinking, surely God is at least as patient and generous as my congregation. At least as keen to see me learn to take better care of myself, and not burn myself out.
My 2 churchwardens, the people who are doing most to cover my absence, are genuinely glad to be able to support and protect me. They have my best interests at heart, though it makes extra work for them. (The learning curve has been quite a steep one, I suspect) They are already having discussions about how they can support and protect me and make my return to work as stress free as possible, to help me be a vicar who is flourishing and joyful, not ground down and unhappy. It must be that God is at least as keen to see me flourish and enjoy my ministry as my churchwardens are.
Finally, most of all, my husband – incredibly patient as I slowly mend, putting no pressure or burdens on me, but gently encouraging me towards stuff that will help me be heal and do me good. (Ok, he does get a bit bossy sometimes….but he means well!) God is at least as patient and gentle, with as least as much deep love for me as my lovely husband.
Now that I can’t do anything very useful for anyone, it turns out that people care for me just as much as when I’m busy, busy, busy. And it finally occurs to me that maybe, so does God. Maybe he loves me for who I am – his child, and I don’t have to earn that at all.
For now I shall rest, and enjoy being cared for, and enjoy this experience of God’s love made tangible. When I am better, I hope I will remember the love I have had and the way it has helped me to see God’s love more clearly. I hope I will remember to go out of my way to show love to those who least expect it.