They are for learning to live life in the slow lane.
For exploring what it feels like to have a blank diary page once a week.
For being able to spend time just sitting with God, not feeling like there is something else that I should be doing.
For writing and reading. For journalling and reflecting. For strong coffee and too much ‘Divine’ white chocolate. For swimming (behind slow people – grrr!). For making soup whilst singing too loudly in my kitchen and then, later tonight, for eating good food and drinking good wine with old friends and a man with whom I fall more deeply in love as every year goes by.
Fridays are for joy.
I have known this for a while now. Practised it for some years, sometimes well and sometimes not so well. I have known the value of a day set aside for joy.
But what I had not considered until lately was that every day has its own flavour. That joy is found in tasting the essence of that day and choosing to embrace it, to live it fully. I learned this from Mike Mason.
For those of you who follow this blog regularly, I am afraid that at this point I may owe you an apology. You, of all my readers, know how much I have lived into some of Mason’s writings. How I have studied the art of joy and celebrated the mysteries of marriage as I have lost myself in his beautiful, poetic prose. You have heard me go on and on about how each page has touched me, how the truths of these writings have become internalised in my own life.
Because of this, I had promised myself that I would give you a break before I started reflecting on more of his books this year. Yet, here I am, about to tell you about another one!
Practising the Presence of People is on my reading pile. Some of you will know that this does not necessarily mean very much. I have about twenty books on my research desk waiting to be read, another thirty or so of review books sitting on my Kindle app and then the few books kicking around my lounge and bedroom floors because I am sort of half-reading them too. (I read thirteen books for pleasure or review last month, on top of my academic reading. It was a good month for finishing books. But it hasn’t made much of a dent in the reading pile, all the same!)
So I’ve only read a bit of this latest book in my Mike Mason fest. It may be August before I read any more! And I’ve not started at the beginning either. I rarely do, as you know. But the short chapter which I did read contained this really helpful idea, one of which has been resonating in my thinking for some time now.
The idea is that each of the six days of God’s work in creation was different. Some days were for forming; others for filling. One day was about the creation of animals; another for plants. As Mason says,
some days were very basic: preparing the canvas and brushing on the background wash. Other days were filled with complex detail.
And then Mason asks a question, disarming in its simplicity and yet hard-hitting in its substance:
If this is the way God’s days are, each one with its unique tone and pace, will it not be the same for us? Shouldn’t we seek to be sensitive each morning to the flavor of the day before us? If a day is for brooding, and I rush into it eager for action, there’s going to be a collision. If yesterday was full of joy, I may be in for an unpleasant surprise if I expect today to be the same. Expectations could be defined as “premeditated resentments”. Better to start each day with a clean slate and be ready for whatever comes…
The truth of this idea was borne out in my life yesterday, as it happens. I’d planned a study day. A ‘head down’ kind of day. An I-am-an-introvert-and-I-don’t-do-talking-to-people kind of day. A hermit day. Me, my books, my research desk and one coffee break at 10:45 when I might possibly talk to some people before going back to my desk. I was going to do eight hours of reading between 8:30 and 5, before writing a sermon in the early evening.
And I could have done it; I’ve done it plenty of times before.
But not yesterday.
Yesterday was not that kind of day, it seems.
It started well enough, with two hours of uninterrupted concentration, sitting mostly by myself and reading in a puddle of sunlight in the research room. It seemed like it was turning out to be a study kind of day.
But then I went to the college dining room for coffee. There, I sat by myself as I always do. (I know how anti-social I sound, by the way, but this is the truth about me!) I was not alone for long, though. I never am at coffee time, somehow. Students are a friendly bunch and a few of them come to my church; so we like to hang out at coffee time and try to put the church to rights over a fifteen-minute coffee!
During that time, another student was hovering. They’d tried to get me on the phone the day before and I’d said I’d be at coffee time if they wanted to chat. So, by 11:30, when I’d finally failed to put the church to rights with the first couple of students I was sitting with (we always fail at this!), I moved to another puddle of sunlight in college where I knew I’d find this other student who wanted to chat. I had the book I was studying because I’d only expected a five minute chat; then I planned to soak up the sunshine and mark up the book.
But it was not to be so. We spent an hour, sharing life, one pastor to another, in that spot of sunlight. And though I enjoyed the chatting, though it was lifegiving to talk about church and ministry and Jesus, the driven part of me was restless. Every minute spent in conversation was a minute fewer spent on study. And today, after all, was a study day.
Yet, then God reminded me of this chapter in Mike Mason’s book.
Some days are for forming; other days are for filling.
Some days are for the extravagance of joy which does nothing but rejoice; other days are for achieving tasks.
Some days are for study; other days are for people.
Yesterday was not for study. I thought it was. I even wished it were. But it was not a study day. It was a people day. And when I accepted that this was from God and it was good, I was able to relax. That day was given for people. For talking and for sharing life. For rehearsing the joys and pains of church and ministry. For challenging and inspiring. It was a day for people.
I’m so glad that God showed me that just before lunchtime. There were at least two more unplanned and relatively lengthy people encounters to come that day, including one lady who was visiting the college library and said that no one had spoken to her all day.
Without this word from God, without this thought from Mike Mason, I fear I would have missed what kind of day it was yesterday. I fear that I would have fought to make it a study day, to ignore the people and to run away from social interactions. Who knows what I might have missed, the joys I might never have experienced and the lives I might not have impacted? Who knows what might have been lost had I not realised what kind of day it was?
I’m not usually so clued in to this. I can just about remember that Fridays are for joy. They come round once a week, so I really should remember that! But what about those other six days? How can I learn to be sensitive each morning to the unique flavour, the singular invitation of God to me in each day?
I don’t know. Maybe you have an answer to this one already.
I suspect my answer lies somewhere in my ‘Mary plan’, the plan to learn the heart of a Mary by sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he says each morning. Because he is the one who is the author of all my days, who knows each one before any of them come to be.