Since reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Where you Are, I have discovered a whole range of American writers who are exploring different ways of thinking, living and believing. All have come to points in their lives where they realised they were desperate for change. They wanted to break away from the stress and strain of Western culture and find a simpler, more peaceful lifestyle. Each one has had their own journey in this – none have been without pain or difficulty or hard work, but all have found a greater freedom and fulfillment as a result.
I recently finished reading Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening your Soul to Rest by Bonnie Gray. This is a book which took years in the writing, because as Bonnie began it, she started to experience severe panic attacks and anxiety as traumatic childhood memories began to resurface. She found that as she tried to discover what it meant to have ‘soul rest’ or to ‘rest with God’ her childhood pain became hard to ignore – but what this meant for her was a time of healing, of better understanding her identity, and of treating herself with grace rather than pushing herself to perform and achieve. The book documents some of this journey and explores the concept of ‘spiritual whitespace’. The idea is that, as in Art and Design, we need ‘whitespaces’ to better bring out the beauty and art of our lives: times of rest and quietness when we can be still, be with God and simply be ourselves. Throughout the book, Bonnie provides prompts for her readers to find out what this might be like for them.
It’s been an interesting time for me to discover this book, because I’ve been in one of the quieter seasons of my life. Having come from a busy, all-consuming job near London, I am now working part time and living in slower-paced, rural North Devon. Rest has imposed itself upon me because of my situation – but knowing what to do with this time can prove puzzling, to say the least. It is easy to feel guilty when the housework’s not as spotless as it ought to be, or the dinner’s not ready, or I’ve not caught up with a friend on the phone, or when I feel tired. I wonder to myself about how I can possibly not have everything done to perfection when I have so much time, and I worry about what others might think of me. But the reality is that I desperately needed this time. Sometimes the quietness is uncomfortable, but it’s enabling my soul to breathe again.
Christians believe God loves us, as we are. But how many times do those of us who profess to be Christians live as though his love depended on what we do or achieve? From looking at our lives, it could easily be assumed that we believe in a God who requires us to live in a permanent state of stress. We don’t. We actually believe in a God upon whom we can ‘cast all our anxieties’, One who told us ‘don’t worry…’ and ‘come to me all you who need rest…’. A God we can trust. The children’s song says ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ but often we act like we’re supposed to juggle the whole world in our own hands. Of course we need to stand up for what is right, to treat others with compassion, to work hard, but we must not be afraid to rest too. We must not be afraid to stop for a moment or two to just be ourselves, as we are.
Reading Bonnie’s book has helped me to understand how to treat myself with graciousness, allowing myself to enjoy my day-to-day life so much more. Five minutes with a book, swapping my tea for hot chocolate every now and then, buying baklava just because, and standing still in the field and soaking in the view… these are the kinds of moments that became so much fuller to me as I saw them as valuable and important.
I am now reading two more books, by two more American bloggers: Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World, by Tsh Oxenreider, and The Nesting Place, by Myquillyn Smith. I’m loving both already, so I hope you like posts about what I’ve been reading!