Consider the Ant

Surprising-Science-multicolor-ants-2
Multicoloured Ants from the Smithsonian Magazine

Happy New Year! Today I am re-sharing an older post about work and rest rhythms as this summer I am aiming for the rest part of that rhythm. I hope you enjoy this post. We will be back to our regular posting in February.

The Good Book says, ‘Consider the ant,’ and I have been doing a lot of that lately. Our house seems to be overrun with them. We have flying ants coming in through our windows and crawling ants coming in through every little crack in the walls.

No, I’m exaggerating. But we do have two major ant incursions.

One in the downstairs bathroom, and one upstairs in the kitchen.

We’ve been using Ant Rid to deal with them. The first thing that happens with Ant Rid is that the ants get all excited and they ALL come to eat the bounty that you have provided for them. Then, so the advertising tells me, they take the poison back to their nest and it kills off the queen and you’re rid of your ant problem.

The downstairs ants have stopped coming, which is nice. But the upstairs ants, they are pretty persistent. There must be a lot of them in that nest.

We keep feeding them, more and more of the delicious Ant Rid. They keep crowding around, making nice neat circles around the drops of golden goodness. We’ve even been making patterns with them — long strips of ant rid, or crop circles. It’s fun. As I say, I’ve been considering them a lot.

When I think of those verses, Proverbs 6:6 and Proverbs 30:25, I tend to think about the busy bustling ant. I think that the verses are a call out to me to be busy. To work hard. To keep going back and forth, storing up food, doing what I’ve been told to do. But that’s not entirely what those verses say.

They say that the ant is wise, it has no commander, and it has little strength, but it stores up its food in the summer; gathers its provisions at harvest.

There is a time limit implicit in those words. The ant doesn’t work hard all the time. It works hard when it is work time, ‘at harvest’, ‘in the summer’. It stores up food then, so that at other times, when it’s not time to work, it will be able to rest.

Our kitchen ants (they are almost pets now) also work hard when the working is good. But when the sun is out and shining on the wall, making it too hot for them to climb up, they rest. At the moment, as I write this, the ants are gone. There are just little puddles of ant rid sitting on our bench and waiting.

But when the sun moves to the west, they will be back, once again busily collecting the food for the nest.

So even for the busy ant there are periods of rest and periods of hard work.

And I think we can apply this to our own lives too. There are times when, even though we are small and weak, we are called to work hard. But around those times, we need to allow ourselves to rest.

Work and rest. It’s a rhythm. Let’s dance to it.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

A Day Off

Last week I took four days off. It was a retreat, a holiday, a time with no ‘shoulds’. It was wonderful. I went to a little town called Dover, rented a studio apartment with a view over the bay. The weather was misty, wet, cold, sunny, windy, rainy, all the things. It’s spring here, that’s the weather you get.

I wanted this time to be useful and restful. I tried to stay off the socials, I read novels and non-fiction books, I played my bass guitar, and I went for walks and runs. And I also watched TV and played Candy Crush and just sat on the couch and stared at the water. (And for those wondering, Moz came down and joined me for one of the four nights and spent the rest of the time doing fun stuff like four-wheel driving and helping out at church.)

The two non-fiction books I read were:

Space Maker – how to unplug, unwind and think clearly in the digital age, by Daniel Sih

And 

Sacred Rhythms – arranging our lives for spiritual transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

And one thing those books had in common was an encouragement to explore a weekly Sabbath.

You know I love the idea of a day off each week. I know that just having one day a week where I stop trying to control the amount of work I’m doing, stop trying to get on top of my to do list and just trust God that he can keep the world running without my help, that day is essential to my wellbeing.

But reading these books encouraged me to take the whole thing further. Now, I don’t know fully where I stand on this yet but I’m feeling challenged to go even deeper into what ‘a day off’ means.

Both authors encouraged their readers to really think about what ‘work’ is. Because it looks different for each of us. For some, gardening is life-giving; for others it’s a chore. The Sih family don’t cook on a Sabbath, the Haley Bartons cook food that they find special and enjoy eating. 

Ruth Haley Barton works from a home office like I do. She says that at times she has had to close the door and not even go into her office on a Sabbath. Daniel Sih avoids email, the internet, texting, and writing, and talking about global events. 

For Daniel Sih, writing on his to do list is too much like work, so that activity is banned on the Sabbath. Ruth Haley Barton also encourages us to take a break from anything that causes worry and stress, and in that list she includes to-do lists as well as budgets, taxes, wedding planning and major decision making. 

Maybe we could just ban the word ‘covid’ on a Sabbath and see how restful that is?

Both of them agreed that having a break from screens or phones is important, though Daniel says that now that his kids are older, the ban is ‘more nuanced’. I feel like having the ability to contact my family or be contacted by them is really high on my priority list. But I also worry a bit that I am just addicted to the screen and all the apps contained therein. I’m thinking on it.

Ruth Haley Barton suggests that we don’t buy or sell anything on the Sabbath. That we take a break from our constant consumerism. Daniel says that rest might involve ‘eating at a café’, which of course requires buying things.

In terms of what goes on the list of things to do on a Sabbath, both of them are in favour of restful pursuits such as sleeping in, reading a book, riding bikes, getting out as a family to do an activity such as bushwalking or staying in to play a board game. It’s a day for rest, for community, and also for spiritual practice. That might mean going to church, though for me, church is often a work-related place. It might mean just taking a few minutes to read scripture and meditate on it through the day.

The major thing they had in common was the idea that this one day – 24 hours – is set aside for rest. And that we should not take this lightly, but instead prepare ourselves, write lists of what we consider work and what we consider rest and play, make sure we’ve done all we need to do beforehand so that the day is not chipped into by urgent tasks, and definitely do this once a week, one day out of seven, and preferably the same day each week so that we know it’s coming and we can look forward to it.

I am, as I said, still working through this. And I’m encouraged by both authors that this is a very counter-cultural discipline and therefore it’s difficult to do. But I feel encouraged that my Sabbath-taking needs to enter a new phase and I’m looking forward to the days of rest that will be ahead.

Where do you stand when it comes to a day of rest? Do you have Sabbath traditions? Or do you find it just too hard? Let me know by emailing ruth@ruthamos.com.au, or tweeting me @aquietlifeblog or find me on Facebook. I’d also love to hear from you if you have a topic you’d like me to talk about. Just let me know!

Can we have it all?

out of officeYou know, we can’t do it all. Not all of the time. None of us can.

Sorry to start the post with such a strong pronouncement, but I’m hoping it’s not too much of a shock for you.

I think that each of us wants to have every area of our lives sorted out beautifully all the time. Each of us is striving for:

  • Good family relationships
  • A satisfying career
  • A healthy body
  • A vibrant spiritual life
  • An exciting social calendar
  • And the ability to eat unlimited amounts of chocolate

But it’s just not possible to be there in that paradise at all times. No, not even that last point.

Not even if you quit your job and start your own business from home. Even then it’s impossible to have all of it, all of the time.

There is no silver bullet. And believe me, I’ve spent a fair bit of time searching for one.

This week’s podcast interview is with Professor Matt King, and I asked him about his work-life balance. I know that in academia, the pressure to work long hours is intense. And Matt is trying to balance that with a young family and some ministry opportunities as well.

He said something really wise.

He said, ‘I’d prefer for some parts of my career to be diminished than to just respond to the pressures of being more, more, and more. … At the moment, my personal research is taking a hit. … It’s about priorities.’

So there’s a difficult path for each of us to walk. Which thing do we compromise on right now? Which thing do we concentrate on? What is the aspect of our life that needs special attention, and what needs to be dropped lower on the list for the time being?

Perfection will come, but not until the next life. For this life we are stuck in an imperfect, fallen world and that means making some hard decisions.

I think I may be worse at this than a lot of people. I love being needed. I love it when someone sends me a text and says, ‘Can you help out?’ Whether it’s ministry or editing or just being there for a friend, I love to help out in a crisis. But this means that my schedule fills quickly, that my life gets too full, and that I run out of time for myself, for my family, for my spiritual growth. I need to continue to learn that sometimes it is important to say no.

As I write this, I am frantically working on getting all my jobs finished so that I can take two weeks of holidays next week. I haven’t had a proper holiday for a long time, so I’m really looking forward to it. And I’m intending to book this type of holiday into my schedule regularly, even if that does mean saying no to some editing jobs, or saying no to some ministry opportunities. It’s not easy, but it’s very, very important.

How do you set your priorities? Do you feel the pressure of being ‘more, more, and more’? How do you deal with it? Do you take holidays?

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!