This is day seven of a new series: 31 Letters from London. In October, I’m doing something a little different and writing to you about the realities of life as an expat; finding the nearness of God through random experiences with new culture. It’s important to begin here and find the collection of letters here. We’re breaking for Sabbath every Sunday.
On Sunday, my Sabbath was unusually busy. I woke up knowing what was on the agenda and resistance invited me to join her in my warm cozy bed. I was late to church. Because I spilled makeup, well, everywhere – my clothes, carpet and the scarf I was wearing around my neck.
When Harrison and I walked out of the house toward our Kensington church, I looked up at him and said, “You can go on if you want, I know you like to walk faster than I do.”
He looked down at me and replied, “Really?” and then took off down the pavement.
People walk fast in London. I have short legs and no matter how fast I try to walk, I feel like I’m last place in the race. Fast is not in my DNA; never has been.
I am often distracted by the beauty I see all around me – trees blushing with color, little girls in tutus pushing their tiny legs on scooters, dogs smelling every inch of concrete. If I walk without noticing the details I feel less than me.
It’s the same issue with writing. I am a slow processor which means it takes a while to know what God is trying to say through me. I once read somewhere that Emily Freeman writes and publishes a blog post in one hour. I wanted to cry after my heart wilted right there over the keyboard.
Theodore Roosevelt was right when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Lately, several people have commented about my writing saying I choose my words carefully. And while that is a perceptive compliment, I felt a hint of conviction. That I quickly turned into condemnation the longer I thought about it.
I watched my son walk briskly ahead of me, the space growing wider between us with each passing step and by the time I reached the traffic light on Addison Road, he was inside the church, invisible.
Anxiety welled up like a hot spring inside my chest. I pictured myself falling on my knees right there in the city and crying out in repentance, I’m sorry I’m so slow. I’m sorry I’ve turned what you’ve given me to write into a contest with perfectionism.
But I kept walking instead.
Writing these random letters about living in England have surprised me; they make me feel more vulnerable than usual. And on that walk to church, I discovered why that is exactly.
I learned to avoid criticism when the people who gave birth to me couldn’t be trusted to love well with words. And so, I learned to behave well and achieve high marks to avoid flying daggers of judgement that nearly sucked the life out of me as an adolescent.
But avoiding criticism means I lose the important attribute of being teachable, learning from my mistakes.
I don’t remember my H ever once saying anything to me that made me feel less than loved and accepted. And so, that is pure grace, isn’t it?
But when I write, I’m putting myself out there, being vulnerable with thousands of strangers. And if I’m completely honest, I worry you won’t like the unedited version of me.
When the traffic light turned green and it was safe to cross the street, I heard God whisper, I made you slow, and that’s why I chose you for the message of the book you are writing on Sabbath.
Each step after that was savored.
When I found the seat Harrison saved me on the second row next to him, we sang worship songs together. And tears streamed down my face.
When you forget who you are, remember Jesus sacrifice and the depth of love he has for all of us.
And your identity comes clearly into focus.
When I finally returned home after dark, I thought, I didn’t really have much of a Sabbath. Slipping shoes off aching feet, I recalled the day’s events. Countless random but meaningful conversations with people came rushing back.
And I heard this at the end of that assessment. “You are in Me and I am in you and that’s what Sabbath is, isn’t it? We spent the day together, not just for you but for the sake of others.”
Jesus died for you and me exactly the way we are, right now, sitting in our pajamas and bed head. Let’s just keep being the messy, slow, doubting, imperfect and special people God made us because this makes Him happy.
This is what I want to tell everyone I meet in London, especially when I notice the vacant stares of loneliness on their faces.
Sabbath helps me remember what matters most each week. I’m not sure how to live anymore without it.
PS. These pictures represent the places I pass on my walk to church.
Linking with Jennifer for #TellHisStory.
This is beautiful, Shelly. Just what I needed to read this evening. Thank you for taking the risk, for putting your words, and yourself out here for us. I learn so much from you. Xo
Your comment here is pure grace Kris, thank you. Look forward to talking face-to-face later. xx
Shelly, I am so encouraged right now -invited to embrace whom I’m made to be . . . for the experience of walking with my God. Thank you.
Jennifer, this comment coming from the queen of encouragement is a bright spot in my day, thank you. I’m so glad you were encouraged by this, such grace!
Oh, Shelly. Thank you. I’ve been meaning to comment on another post of yours as well — the one about becoming an author — because it was one of a few things I read recently that helped me to stop anxiously moving about, and to wait for God. This post has done the same. Work that is worship at heart brings a particularly clear kind of joy.
And though I’ve only recently been introduced to this blog, I happen to like the unedited version of you quite well, thank you very much. 🙂
Amy, we are just getting to know each other but I’m learning you are a gracious and generous soul. Thank you for the kind encouragement, it put a smile on my face.
Shelly, this is a beautiful post and one I need to be reminded of. I know its truth, because it’s my truth too. Still, I need to remember it. I recall going to a wonderful secular journaling retreat. Men and women poured forth eloquence with each writing prompt. They wrote quickly and perfectly, first try. It just spilled from their hearts in utter poetic perfection. When I headed towards that retreat, I thought I could write (I had already been published). But when I left, I wondered what on earth I was doing. Nothing flowed spontaneously, because that is not how I write. I’m far slower, more methodical. I write. I reflect. I come back to it, reread, and correct. And yes, generally, I choose my words carefully (probably because in part I love language, and particular words have particular nuances of meaning. I find it does make a difference in expression). I was so intimidated on that retreat, that I was ready to quit. But I sensed God telling me to try and just to write in the way I had been and not compare my writing or myself to anyone else. On that retreat, it ended up that I wrote some of my best pieces which ended up being published in my signature book. I wrote those pieces when I forgot about the other people there and asked His Spirit to flow through me at whatever speed on whatever topic He chose. And He did. One thing that I know about you is that you are always in tune with the Spirit. You pray fervently over your writing, and frankly, that can’t be rushed. I think of Eric Liddel and how he said that God made him fast. Well, by contrast, maybe He made you, made me slow. If we can accept that, if we can just be who are made to be and exercise whatever gifts *He* has given us in the *way* He wants them to be used, then we are pleasing the Gift-Giver. Then we can be a blessing. And let me direct you to a wonderful (relatively) new book called The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo. She makes a wonderful case for the benefits and beauty of slow writing. And you yourself make a wonderful case for it too through the beauty of your prose. I’d say that God knew just what He was doing when He called you to write . . . and to write about Sabbath! Keep on.
It’s always comforting to know that we share the same struggles with our humanity, isn’t it Lynn? I often struggle with sharing my true feelings here for fear they will be perceived in a way unintended but then, I get such lovely letters in response and it feels like being kissed on the cheek by God. What amazing grace!
Oh I love that, Shelly….kissed on t he cheek by God. I won’t forget.
Thank you dear Shelly for this post. I can’t tell you how it blessed and encouraged me this morning. Much love to you (and hope to see you soon!) x
(((Cath))) I’m so excited to see you here friend. How are you? Thank you for stopping by with this encouragement. And yes, soon! xx
Edited or unedited … I will like your writing. You have a sweet heart.
Thanks Glenda, right back atcha friend.
I”m playing catch up- reading all of your previous 31 days posts in one go. I want to than you for your words. When I read them, i am transported in my mind to London and all of its quirks and it makes me smile. Each time I go I learn something new about myself. I’ve been not struggling with words lately; that is, I’ve rather walked away from them or turned the reception down in my brain. They are there, just not accessible at the moment. I asked my Bible Study group to pray for words for me last night. A scary thing to ask for me, but there it is. I sit here drinking my Yorkshire and contemplating the day. Your posts have made a good start to my morning. Rain or shine, quiet or blustery, have a good words day today Shelly!
I happen to be drinking some Yorkshire too as I type this note back to you. I’m glad you took the risk to be honest with your group and ask. I pray God honors your brave trust in the outcome.
I really enjoyed this letter very much. I’m not sure if it because I can relate to the vulnerability or that this one was written differently. However, it especially touched a note with me. Thanks for sharing and reminding me to remember who I am. 🙂
Thankful this resonated with you Leslie. It is always a gift to see you pop into the comments from time to time. Appreciate you!
I love this. I love your writing and how you make me also strive to notice all the small beauties and lessons from God that I am sure I often miss. I think I forgot who I was before I got creative again, and often doubt if I am being the best mum – the I remember I don’t have to be the best, I need to be the person God made me.
I think the season you are in Zoe, is the easiest to lose our way a bit with so much responsibility with little ones. I’m so proud of you for cultivating creativity in spite of the busyness with littles. You are an inspiration. So glad we met through 31 days last year!
Hey, I needed this today. Thank you. I confess that I am all too often comparing myself to you.
I admire you, that is true. I am also grateful to be a part of this bigger thing.
You speak to my heart, your words comfort, convict, remind and I thank you.
Oh my Celeste. Thank you for the compliment. My only hope is that Jesus will come flowing out — He is the standard.
I like you slow.
Thank you for these beautiful words, for me the takeaway was, how has God made and shaped me? I loved those intimate words of his to you, I made you slow.. amazing and so tender. I’m remembering now the words he has spoken to me, and yes, they are usually about the things I feel most embarrassed about or the parts of my personality that fill me with insecurity. It can’t be an accident that how he wants to use us is probably also where we wrestle with the lies.. thanks Shelly.
Your words sober me Devi, thank you. God does seem to use our weaknesses and broken places the most.
Ah, yes. The curse of perfectionism and the fear of criticism. I know both of these so very well. But I will say that with age and experience, they do morph a bit, Shelly. My adolescence was nowhere near what yours was, but I managed to mis-absorb some of the very same things. I’m grateful you’re listening well to the voice of Grace which sings over you, my friend. That’s where the truth is. And good criticism, from a skilled and caring source? A GIFT, pure and simple. Someday, I trust you will believe that. I think slow is a lovely thing in you, Shelly. Beats anxiety any day of the week, right? Love to you in London-town.
Thanks for your wise words Diana, I agree that age does give some beautiful perspective and peace that is different than previous decades.
I am trying to catch up. All of you posts slip silently into my inbox, but I have been overwhelmed with other things and this series has been piling up, waiting for me to come back to it. Transitions in Parenting, Commuting Inward and the one on legalism all sit open in other tabs on my laptop waiting for a comment, but this one…this one wouldn’t wait. Shelly, thank you. Thank you for being honest and open. For sharing your vulnerability and the fact that you too, fall into the comparison trap at times. Sometimes I am sure I am the ONLY ONE that does that, yet deep down I know I’m not.
I am going to savor this paragraph: “Jesus died for you and me exactly the way we are, right now, sitting in our pajamas and bed head. Let’s just keep being the messy, slow, doubting, imperfect and special people God made us because this makes Him happy.” Because that is what I need to remember…today and always.
Nope, you’re not the only one Mary. I think you have a lot of good company. Thanks for reading and being such a good friend. Your encouragement matters.
Thanks. This was good. One of my dougisms is “take your time, you’ll get there faster” …only problem is I can’t seem to practice what I preach.
Ha! Thanks for being here Doug, appreciate your comment.
Oh why are we all so hard on ourselves and worrying about how we compare… I say that of course, because I do it too. 🙂 And I think the enemy is working overtime to get us in our insecurities. Before I read this, I had just been thinking – “I don’t know how Shelly does all the writing she does. She blogs everyday (most of the time not just for this 31) takes care of teens and a husband and a home, etc etc. I feel like I am slow because most of my posts take me about 3 or 4 hours and I’m trying to fit in my drawing, prayer and devotion time, everyday housework and errands and never seem to get it all done. I have to alternate days between writing and drawing usually, and this 31 day theme is like deadline work. . Plus I crave the energy that others seem to have. So… mmm… to me you seem like super woman (which we never do to ourselves of course! 🙂 Oh, I envy you going to your Cotswold retreat to write, breathe in that quaint beauty there… and I hope you post many beautiful photos of it all (I still can’t get to that other high tech thing you mentioned… 🙂 Pam, apples of gold
I don’t know how I’m doing it either Pam. I’m pretty tired to be honest. I hope to post some photos of this beautiful place! Thanks for being here.