A friend once said to me: 'There is nothing so beautiful as a disciplined life.' I have been reminded of that this year because, yet again, my new year's resolution was to re-commit to morning quiet times.
It's not that I don't believe in quiet times - I do - it's just that I have always found it difficult to get out of bed! Maybe you have the same problem? My quiet time career, since Initiatives of Change changed my life 20 years ago, has had many ups and downs...
Of course, a quiet time doesn't have to be in the morning. Each of us must find the time and the rhythm that suits us best. But I have come to the conclusion that, at this stage in my life, if I don't have a quiet time in the morning it is probably not going to happen at all. If I do have free time during the day I am keen to get down my to-do list, and given the choice I would probably clean toilets! And, if I wait until the evening I am often too exhausted. Last night I went to bed at 8pm. My six-year-old son was bouncing off the walls but I thought, 'I do not care - I am going to bed!'
Several thoughts have helped recently:
- I realised that God knows how difficult this is for me. That made me feel understood.
- The words of Jesus have had a transforming effect: ’Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.' (Matthew 11:28) Ah...so the quiet time is actually a time for me to relax. Now, when the alarm goes off at 6.10 a.m. and I am reluctant to get up I say to myself, 'I am getting up - to rest - knowing that there is someone who cares more about my concerns than I do.'
- Making time for a quiet time is actually making time for myself. And I crave time.
Years ago, another friend shared a quote with me at a time when I felt very low. 'All human life has its seasons, and no-one's personal chaos can be permanent: winter, after all, does not last forever does it? There is summer, too, and spring, and though sometimes when branches stay dark and the earth cracks with ice, one thinks they will never come, that spring, that summer, but they do, and always.' (Truman Capote)
I like that line, 'No-one's personal chaos can be permanent'. And I feel like I am emerging from a period of personal chaos, and that summer is, indeed, in sight.
Just over a year ago my son, Peter, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It turned my world upside down. On the one hand, it was a huge relief to realise that he was not just a spoilt child and that I was not a useless parent who couldn't discipline him. On the other hand, it was a horrible shock.
At the consultation with a paediatrician and a psychologist, we thought we might be entering a six-month observation process. They concluded, after one hour and 40 minutes, that he had Autism Spectrum Disorder (highlighting his poor communication skills). I felt completely flattened.
I did what many of us do - I went to Google. Up came the National Autistic Society website. I clicked on 'What is autism?' only to read 'Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. There is no cure. Children with autism become adults with autism.'
A saving grace in those 48 hours was an email from someone I barely knew from church, who has two sons with autism. In her long, warm, encouraging message, she wrote, 'Stay close to your heavenly father. He knows. He made Peter.' It now feels imperative that I have quiet times. I need to go to my son's maker for instructions, inspiration and insight.
Ultimately, I am grateful to know about a world I knew nothing about. Apparently one in a 100 people is autistic, maybe more, and they are seeing the world differently than neuro-typical people.
Last year, my husband and I attended a course for parents of children with high-functioning autism. I was amazed at the last session when the conclusion appeared on the power point: 'Don't try to change your child, change yourself.'
We are modifying our behaviour towards Peter. To give you an example (they are often subtle changes irrelevant to the untrained eye), we warn him about things ahead of time, for example, if someone is going to visit the house. We try not to spring things on him that might cause anxiety and lead to a meltdown.
I have also realised that I need the discipline of gratitude in my life. My heart sinks at least once a day, and I lament the presence of autism in our family. Yet, alongside all the difficulties there is progress, if only I have eyes to see! He can now dress himself, and generally skips cheerfully to school. Sometimes he holds my hand, and I need to remember to say, 'Thank you Jesus'.
The diagnosis has been a gift because it has given me my son back. I have always loved him but sometimes it is hard to understand him. Now I know why.
However lightweight it may sound, in a world which places so much emphasis on career, I believe that my calling is to care for people. Because that is what people have done for me: they have listened to me, encouraged me, challenged me, prayed for me, believed in me. It is no longer practical for me to work full-time with Initiatives of Change as I used to, but my calling has evolved very naturally in Canterbury, largely through my church.
I help run a toddler group - 30 plus families come every week. I am involved with a group called The Breakfast Club which attracts diverse people: elderly, lonely, depressed, unemployed etc. Another team I am part of cooks meals for people who have just had babies, or those who have just come out of hospital. Life is full, and I have not been looking for extra commitments.
Before Christmas I became aware of another need. One Sunday a month I help out in the crèche. I realised that another lady - a full-time teacher - was leading twice a month. When I asked why, she said there was no-one else to do it. I offered to think about whether to take it on. Everything in me resisted it. Eventually I said yes but it was through gritted teeth. Deep down, though, I knew it would be good for me to be forced to read the Bible.
The theme of my second session was the Last Supper. Even though it took me three hours to prepare ten minutes of input I felt peaceful. Sunday came. Teaching a group of ten two-to-four year olds is a bit like herding cats, but even when little Daniel sat in a plate of grapes which upset little Evelyn the story was not derailed and I got to the end. Afterwards, however, I felt a bit flat. All that preparation and it was over in ten minutes! I couldn't help wondering how much housework I could have done in those three hours.
Back home my husband asked how it had gone. I explained that I had a rabbit who said to the children, 'I like eating carrots. What do you like eating?' Suddenly my son (a big fan of Peter Rabbit) said, 'What rabbit?' And he sat on my knee and listened to the whole story. That meant so much to me because it is hard to interest him in any book, never mind the Bible!
In God's economy we don't know how our sacrifice of time, money or talents will be used, but in the words of T.S. Eliot, 'For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.'