Having a break, some time away from the business and busyness of work, no matter how much you might love what you do, is critical to refresh body, mind and spirit. (A small confession here — I’m very skilled at reminding others of the necessity of having time off, yet not so good at heeding my own wisdom!)
I was able to take three weeks off recently, and recognise the privilege of being able to pack some things into our car and head off with no particular fixed plans. The general plan was to “explore New South Wales,” something we have not done before. The only visits I had made to NSW prior to moving here five years ago were to Sydney, and I had not really heard much about the rest of the state, except perhaps for a few key areas.
Setting off in the beginning, we had a general idea of a kind of loop we might do “up north.” We would head up a little inland, aiming roughly for the Queensland border, and then would scoot across to the coast and meander our way back to Sydney. We greatly anticipated that the coast was going to be our place of refreshment (I even bought swimwear, so great was the expectation!). Great expectations often lead to a sense of feeling let down, and the coast wasn’t quite what we were expecting. We hadn’t thought much about the busyness, especially as people were heading as far north as the border restrictions were allowing them to travel. We chose to head back toward the hinterland areas.
They feel like ever-so-long-ago now, but the stark reminder of the bushfires of last summer confronted us as we drove. Some of the roads we travelled were lined by valleys that had been devastated by the flames and heat, and we were transfixed by the sight of regrowth on trunks and branches of blackened trees. At times we could look across vast spaces and see escarpments that were lit up with sunlight, revealing stunning colours, and we reminded ourselves that had the fires not roared through the area, those escarpments would not be seen from our roadside vantage points. There was one valley we looked across that was even more stark in its barrenness — no signs of regrowth, no signs of life. On the other side of the narrow road was another valley where trees were re-sprouting prolifically.
It struck me as we were driving how this is might be a metaphor for our faith journey, especially as we experience extended periods of struggle, stress, uncertainty and anxiety. At least for a while we can show the strength and courage needed to support others, and to keep doing what we are called to do. But sometimes, for some of us, it will become too much. That doesn’t mean we are not strong, or that we are less resilient than others around us, it means that the “fire” (the impact of life and what is happening) is too much for us. It still haunts me that it was just a narrow road that separated two very different valleys. The line between being “very tired” and being “exhausted to the point of burn out” is so fine.
It was so refreshing to see the bursts of new growth on trees and bushes — so different to the normal crown of leaves on a tree as leaves sprouted all the way up blackened trunks and branches. The vibrancy of the growth was soul-restoring. Time and again my thoughts returned to the well-known psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.”
I have seen such growth reflected in our ministry leaders and congregations, as people reach beyond themselves to revitalise the connection they have with God and each other through this year. I have seen signs of green shoots — new opportunities grasped and mission initiatives created. Complacency has not been an option for us — dare I hope that it never is again?
My reflections have been deep through these weeks, and I do not have the words to express all that has touched me. Yet this I know: God is bringing life — life to fire-burnt country, life to community, life to leadership, life to God’s church, life to ministry and mission. I see it, I live it, and I live in it. I remain awe-struck because this can only be the work of God. The inadequacy of words frustrates me at times, yet perhaps it can be summed by this from a much-loved hymn:
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art!
My soul has been restored. With all my heart I pray that you have times of such restoration in the coming days and weeks.
Blessings and peace,