Psalm 34: 4-5 “I prayed to the Lord and he answered me from my fears! Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy”.
I stood by the kitchen bench watching my Aunt make sandwich after sandwich (in the days when gluten wasn’t the enemy). She would make a stack for each face looking around the corner, the number of eyes went on and on.
She had a growing gang of children around her legs, her apron floured and floors dirty. Not counting the eight she birthed, cousins, neighbours and school friends swirled her kitchen bench. It wasn’t unusual for her to slap butter and jam on two dozen rounds. Next a watermelon was sliced on the terrace. And children would scurry from every hiding place, including the teepee we had constructed from a tree and sheets in the block next door.
I just remember standing next to her in the kitchen watching row upon row of sandwich being constructed and telling stories from my day. I remember her presence. I remember the smell of her baking and the rollers in her hair.
Somedays I wonder what stories my children will remember, you know the inconsequential butter and jam moments, that run quickly through my life, but remembered 30 years later. I think my New Years theology focuses more on the highlights, the goals achieved, than the lowlights of preparing food for the circle who gather.
I never heard my Aunt complain, that’s probably because I didn’t live in her house full time, although sometimes I’m sure she thought we did. The memory of that little moment, wasn’t about the lunch being collated for anyone who was close-by, it was her present attention. Her nods, smiles and wonder. Her warmth, slowness and intention. The homemade biscuits, cordial and table. Somedays I wonder if I’ve missed moments lost inside my mind. In fact, I’m sure I have. Lost within my lies.
I grew up recreating moments in the future, to hold onto the surety I felt in the now. You can find me dreaming up new and better possibilities rather than staying present to the current reality. This recreating in the future doesn’t happens when I’m stressed, overwhelmed and anxious. It is always when I feel great, a memory in the making and those filled with goodness. Like I can’t just exist in that moment of presence, I need to recreate it again, control the future in case it never comes again.
Do you spend the present trying to control the future?
Rather than experiencing the holiday, I would be planning the next one.
Instead of celebrating the win, I’d be processing what it would take to achieve more.
As I sit at a table with family and friends, I find myself trying to recreate the moment in the future.
I think I believed the lie; if I try hard enough, I will be enough, more than I am right now and pain won’t ever dawn our door again.
It is a lie.
I discovered the lie recently when my husband said out loud about our house “this house is enough” and I looked up from my phone and my head tilted. I’d never really considered that what I had in my life was actually enough. Of course when I reflect on the disparity between my life and others, the global famine, the rental crisis be the increase of family breakdown from the pressure of post pandemic world. I am stilled, grateful, humbled but then I continue on believing what our culture sells us in every ad retargeted that we need more.
Recently a university professor asked me if I struggled with perfection. Straight away I replied “of course not…oh, maybe. Gosh, I’ve never considered it that way” and he smiled.
You see enoughness has never looked like perfection, because I just couldn’t ever imagine anything feeling finished. This feedback was contextual to me failing an exam, that I’d worked really hard to try and pass. In the same week I couldn’t finish an ocean swim, although I trained all year and the day before finished easily.
The desire for more runs deep within my theological veins. It’s a place I have traversed often in prayer, moments of surrender, when I just can’t take the pressure any more. A lie that contentment is a place in the future, rather that the platitude of gratitude for what I have rather than have not.
The second lie I uncovered recently that took hold in the corridors of hope twenty years ago. The teeth gritting determined stance of living a supposed “purpose-driven life”. This pressure of making meaning and every moment mattering created a vortex of helping others for this helper.
If something wasn’t purposeful then maybe it wasn’t worthy and then I find myself back at my Aunts 70’s kitchen and her jam countertop parade and the feeling of contentment swirl the drain once again.
I swing from dreaming of deleting every social media, cancelling my radio commitments, throwing my latest manuscript in the fire and saying no to everything for a year. To wanting to record a podcast, write a weekly newsletter and fire up my blog once again.
You see writing is an act of presence for me, it’s a rebellious act of regurgitation, where the lies stuck in my mind, get recalibrated once again. The problem is I then begin to feel the weight of performance and achievement whisper promises of enoughness and I recoil once again. Performance, purpose and more are themes of my autobiography and the only prescription is perspective.
Each New Year I ask myself a set questions, that help me to repent my desire for notoriety once again. This writing practice is not about resolutions, losing weight, finding faith or new occupations. It is the heart beat of reconciliation, that audits my obsessions to find presence once again.
Recently I’ve believed another lie (in my pursuit of unravelling the purposeful life context) that God doesn’t really care or walk with us in the details of our days.
Can He really be present to every need in our world?
Without thinking I wrote a text to my close group of friends and said “If I die the same age as my Dad did, then I only have 20 more years to go.” And I’m sure they didn’t mean to, because I’ve known them for such a long time, but the messages rolled on through and no one acknowledged this moment of sheer vulnerability, even with a joke of “stop being morose Viviers” but losing two fathers in a short space of time does something deep in the fractured foundation of your surety, your understanding of what’s important and what’s not.
2022 bought so many difficulties, so many that are not publicly consumable and some just not my stories to share but somehow with the headwind that has blown strongly against my hope I’ve believed that God is not present in our pain.
However I come back to perfection again, I remember all the times He has been present in my pain and the lie is exposed. He is my help, my perfection and my surrender.
The word that I am focusing on for 2023 is “presence”. My present attention to my family. My seeking of His presence in my very ordinary moments and remaining present in the moment rather than running off into the future. Just like my Aunt making jam sandwiches for the children who gathered around her skirt, may I sink into the very moments of grace extended in my everyday. Remembering that hope is on its way.
May His hope, help and friendship hold you steady friend in anything that 2023 brings us.