As some of you know, I have spent the last eight weeks recovering from a complex foot operation. For that time I have not been able to work, do most household chores, or get in my beloved, if untamed, garden. For a month, I also endured an enforced complete immobility, and even now some things are restricted and will be for some time.
Now I’m an activist. I’ve always wanted to be a contemplative, well-practised in the disciplines of stillness and silence. But I’m not. Although I always feel close to God watching the sea, even there I have to work at stilling my frenzied thoughts: attempting to quietly box the ideas that inevitably intrude into a corner for later. To simply be, letting the sound of the waves quieten the other noises that so easily invades my soul. Sometimes I succeed better than others.
Busy people often dream of a protracted time of recuperation and rest, feeling they never quite attain it in the weekly rhythm: and perhaps there is in some situations a season when recovery is almost complete where we may be well enough to enjoy it as bonus leisure time. But not often. At least here in the West, we are schooled in busyness – worse still, we are fed the lie that our value lies in our productivity. I have had countless conversations with older people who feel they are worth less because they cannot do as much. Societal attitudes whisper to us that to have significance we must be either famous, or active.
There were days in these last few weeks that the ability to do anything at all eluded me. I could not concentrate to read, or even watch TV. I had no choice but to simply lie still and wait for recovery to come. My prayers were at times an uncomplicated naming of people before God, in simple trust that He holds them much more in His heart than I can and has a far deeper understanding of their real needs.
On one particular night, frustrated at being so constrained and unable to sleep, all I could do was hold on to the image of lying not on the pillow but in God’s lap, as my children did and my grandchildren do. It was a moment of recognition, simultaneously painful and comforting, that I was incapable of anything else. Yet I know as well that, as a parent and grandparent, these are some of the most precious of moments. My love is never dependent on them doing anything. When my daughter was about 9 months old she had difficulties sleeping following an ear operation. I would often, as I held her in the middle of the night, know with an absolute certainty that nothing she could do, or not do, would ever mean I loved her less. That remains true.
God’s love is, of course, much greater than ours. We may choose, if we are able, to serve Him in some way but that does not increase His love for us. Or we may, whether for a time or permanently, not be able to do anything for Him or others. Yet in those times – indeed perhaps especially then – He is holding us as adored children, cherished simply because we are His.