'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters; He restores my soul' Psalm 23:1-3
That is one of the best known parts of the Bible. Even many people who have never been to church or who have very little understanding of Christianity are familiar with the words. But at times, familiarity can breed contempt; we can become so familiar with words that we neglect to stop and really consider what these mean and how they can apply to our lives today.
Over the past couple of weeks, a question I have been asking myself is, 'Where are the still waters when life is busy with small children and a seemingly endless list of tasks and responsibilities?' I hear of others who go on retreats, or go out for coffee with a good friend, or have some time away with their spouse in order to simply spend time thanking God for that relationship and to pray about and plan. I speak with those who have recently read a challenging book, or who have had time to really dig into what the Bible says and spend time refreshing their soul. I don't often find such times, and I know that I am far from alone in that!
In Isaiah Chapter 40 verse 11, it reads, 'He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young'. That is a beautiful promise - that 'those that have young' are recognised and words of special tenderness are spoken. It is a reminder that God knows about this phase of life, and promises to be gentle with us through it. It's this gentleness that can sometimes be lacking when we lack understanding of God's grace; it is easy to become our own worse enemies in that respect.
But back to my question. Still waters. Where? Well, I have been encouraged by finding these in several places. Five examples:
1) First and foremost through reading the Bible. I might not have as much time as I would like to quietly read the Bible alone early in the morning, or to be able to read commentaries and look up the original texts. But I read the Bible to my children several times each day. Often through reading aloud, and through answering some of their questions, there comes a fresh perspective. We can put our devotional time into a 'box', thinking that if it is not done in a certain way, then somehow it doesn't 'count'. But by stepping back from that, I realise that I have more time to read and discuss the Bible each day than many others, and that this is a privilege and a blessing.
2) By stopping to enjoy the moment. 'Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself' Matthew 6:33-34. There are times when the children are playing well in the garden, pretending to be explorers, or savages, or pirates, or kings. It is easy at those moments for me to rush inside and try and tick of some more tasks on my mental to-do list. However, there is often no need. I can sit and enjoy a coffee, enjoy the sound of birdsong and children playing and reflect on how abundantly God has blessed me. I think most parents can relate to this: that sometimes you just look at all your children in amazement. Do we spend enough time simply doing this, or are we often too busy dealing with some issue or other?
3) By choosing their read-alouds carefully. There are some poor books out there, and many mediocre ones. But there are also some excellent books which bring out important values and teach many lessons. This is one thing I love about the curriculum we use, Sonlight, because great care has been taken to choose books that are of great value. We supplement this with Christian biographies (mainly Trail Blazers [written for children aged 8-12ish], but sometimes ones which are written for adults - although we need to take care to avoid some topics which are not age-appropriate). I find these wonderfully encouraging! And by reading books that I find encouraging, and discussing them with the children, I find refreshment. I've recently commented on the Jungle Doctors books - these have also been enjoyable, encouraging and have stimulated some great conversations.
4) By choosing to focus on the task immediately at hand, rather than running through the next lot of things that needs to be done. That may sound fairly obvious, but when I am tired I can start to feel anxious about everything that is piling up. However this week we've enjoyed some painting, some baking, a couple of lovely walks - all precious moments with the children which will not necessarily come again. I know that one of the major reasons why people choose to home educate is to maximise these opportunities, but I can see that you can also start to get into a bit of a rut where you fail to embrace these.
5) By not comparing. It can be so easy to look at others who appear to have something which you lack - whether that be a strong social support network, particularly studious/ athletic/ musical children, more time for friendships, a more comfortable financial situation or whatever. But that is not the life God has given you. God has placed you here, now, for a good reason. When you take a step back and remember that even (at times especially!) through the mundane God can be glorified, it brings a wonderfully refreshing perspective. Who are you doing it for? Are you seeking the approval of others, or from God? 'Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men. It is the Lord Christ you are serving' Colossians 3:23 There can be times when weariness comes from discontentment, and we can choose to rejoice in what God has wisely given each one of us.
So, whereas a week or so ago, I felt really low spiritually and emotionally, God has provided me with much encouragement. I am still tired. I still feel a little like I have hit a wall at a certain point in the evening. Physically I haven't seen a huge change, but I feel far more peaceful and able to trust God through this season of life.