Recently I completed a marathon. No, not a running/walking marathon, but an extended season of study that challenged, stretched and, at times, brought me to my knees in despair. For close on eight years, the project took over my life: it consumed my thinking, interrupted sleep, disrupted family life; it frustrated me, confused me and delighted me.
As I reflect on the journey, I notice there were several distinct phases, and these phases are part of every project we undertake, including ministry and vocational projects. I’m sure we are all familiar with this journey.
- Exhilaration: it’s really going to happen. They said yes!
- Enthusiasm (accompanied by nerves): will it work? Can I really do it?
- The slump: the novelty wears off. The reality of the long-term commitment required to see the project to completion sets in.
- Euphoria: milestones are reached! Followed by further slumps. Another task needs attention. Task finished. More euphoria. More slumps. All in rapid succession.
- Panic: the finish line is in sight. So close yet still such a long way to go. Frenetic activity. Lying awake. Have I done enough? Have I forgotten something? Should I change this bit? What if….?
- Completion (accompanied by apprehension): ‘my baby’ is on show, examined in minute detail by others. What if they don’t like it? What if they think it’s a load of rubbish? Coming down with a bad case of ‘should’ve-could’ve-itus’
- Relief: it is finally over; the results are okay — I actually did it!
Part of the journey of any project is ‘life-after’— getting back to normal. I finished the project at the end of last year and, for the past three months, have been living ‘life after’. This life-after is proving to be very puzzling. I expected a huge sense of joy and relief when the project was over. There was. I walked around with a grin on my face for quite some time, rejoicing in successful completion, freedom from the rigours of formal study and thinking about re-acquainting myself with ‘normal’ life. But once the initial euphoria passed, I was surprised by the ‘guilts’: I wasn’t doing anything— no texts to read, no writing to do, no tasks to complete, no late nights in front of the computer.
I was also surprised by the emptiness, especially in the space between my ears! Surely now the project is over I should have freedom to think about other things? I should have more time to be creative, write about something other than the topic of ‘the project’ — writing this blog should be a breeze!
As I’ve reflected on why the ‘guilts’ have appeared and why there is an empty space between my ears, I have come to a conclusion. The writer of Ecclesiastes said it so well:
1For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted a sense of the past and of the future in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labour, for these are gifts from God. (Ecc 3:1-18)
So now it’s the season to let the busyness of the project die and harvest the rewards.
It’s the season to ‘kill off’ the obsession with the topic, and the tears shed in the journey, and let God’s healing wash over my inner being, bringing rest and restoration. It’s the season to laugh and dance, to celebrate the fruit of hard work.
It’s the season to quit searching (for the ‘perfect’ article, the latest scholarly discourse or academic treatise) and embrace the presence of God — God’s gift of relationship with him bought with the blood of his Son.
We are so drawn to work, study, busyness, tasks, ministry, helping, doing. These are good things. But when the project is done, it’s a season to rest and celebrate God’s faithfulness in the midst of the craziness. It’s time to live ‘life-after’, even if it’s only for a short time before the next season of busyness begins.
Dr Lesley Houston- TESOL ESL Coordinator, Tabor Adelaide