I love a good book. You know, the ones you can’t put down – fingers and thumb firmly gripping the top right of each page, eagerly waiting to turn it to see how the story and world we’ve been drawn into will continue. Our sense of time, and the demands it often presses on us, is for an hour or four lost, and we only realise our coffee is gone when we raise the mug to our mouth for another sip.
One of life’s treasures.
I recently finished reading Scary Close by Donald Miller – a book which, for me, certainly falls into the above category. Each chapter seemed to be shorter than the previous, and my pen was used regularly to underline quotable quotes and scribble down my own musings. The key to this was the vulnerability and insight bravely offered by Miller, who talks openly of his journey towards ‘dropping the act and finding true intimacy’ in his relationships (most notably with his wife, Betsy).
On finishing one particular chapter, I can recall halting the urgency I felt to turn the page and begin the next chapter. I got so much from the chapter, but felt there was more to be gleaned by reflecting on what I had just read. This meant going back to re-read the odd paragraph and jot down a few personal reflections. This proved so valuable. New insight emerged and more opportunity given to imbed what I had learnt. I was eager to see how Miller’s story progressed and how this would resonate with my own, but the next chapter was for another day.
Last week my chapter at Nationwide drew to a close. After five-and-a-half years, the time had come to move onto something new. When any change comes, the temptation is to immediately grip the top right of the page with urgency and expectancy to see what unfolds in the next chapter, but sometimes it is worth scanning the pages we have just walked through – paragraphs to re-read, sentences to underline, thoughts ruminated on and jotted down – to see if there is further treasure to be found.
A big part of me is eager to turn the page on what has been and begin exploring what is next. But for now it seems better to look back for a moment on the chapter I have just finished…
The journey to and from work which included a short and quiet weave through the peaceful, calm and green countryside. Unfailingly picturesque and hopeful. It’s one of those roads which includes one or two uphill stretches, along with the odd unsighted turn where, if you encounter an oncoming car, the chances are one of you will have to navigate some tight manoeuvring before moving on. The road often felt a bit like life: full of beauty; unexpected and unsighted turns are a cert; some stretches will be uphill; and the odd bit of awkward manoeuvring will likely be required. God is above, seeing the whole journey, knowing what is around the corner and where I am heading; and God is in the car, experiencing with me life’s beauty, twists and annoyingly long hills. The perfect friend for a road-trip.
The lady who walked the same path at the same time with headphones in ear. She was one of many individuals I got to recognise on my commute to and from work. I sometimes wondered what song she was listening to. I enjoyed having a small insight into the routine of others I did not know. For a variety of reasons these individuals walk the same road at a particular time. Many alone; many with others. Headphones commonplace. It all reminds me of routine’s charm, the necessary moments that make our days happen – moments perhaps where friendships are forged, ideas are born, strength gained from listening to that song, space and fresh air provided for thought, reflection and quiet. The mundane made beautiful.
The ever-pleasing hum of the office: the ‘Morning!’ and ‘Have a good evening!’; the analysis of another weekend of football; the tapping away at the keyboard; the offer of help; the request for help; the banter; the laughter. Ah yes, the laughter. I can recall one or two days when the odd burden was pressing in and colleagues offered some timely banter which helped lighten the load. I giggled much and the odd tear did fall. I am so thankful to God for laughter and the provision it offers us. I need to more intentionally provide opportunities to laugh. It’s a wonderful gift.
The mid-week trip I took to a local speciality coffee shop. The hour reading and sipping coffee always took me to another world. There was always the temptation to visit more than once in the week, but that would make the hour less special (and put a slight stretch on the finances!). We can do things too much, that the moment ceases to be treasured. It’s like repeatedly listening to a new song you immediately fall in love with until you are very soon bored of it. You are then after the next new song to chase after. I always do that. I am slowly realising that songs are best enjoyed when played at the right time and not excessively – sometimes just once, at other times sparingly, or whenever the mood or situation fits. To hastily play a song too much can mean missing out on its treasure when we need it most.
I calculated that in my 5-and-a-half years at Nationwide, I worked just shy of 10,000 hours. That’s crazy. It was work that served to help a business and its customers. Work pays the bills and provides places to grow and build friendships, but it also serves to fulfil a job description. We may only be a very small part of a big machine, but each role is important. I won’t ever know the extent to which my work contributed to the lives of others, but it did something, which makes me realise afresh that each and every day I am benefiting from the work of people the world over. The t-shirt I wear, the coffee I drink, the bank account I deposit my money in, the crockery I put my dinner on, that dinner I then eat – this, and so much more, are with me because countless others designed, farmed, created, packaged, discussed, held, moved, sold, cooked…and so on. We are part of a global and interdependent community. I can pray for some of the individuals who contributed yesterday to what I use today. I don’t know their name or their story, but God does. And I must ensure I buy and advocate well – adding my voice to many others seeking to make sure those who work their 10,000 or so hours do so safely and with reward.
Reading Scary Close has reminded me that we can steadily read through a book’s chapters simply to keep up with the overall story, when a closer read can offer insight not seen – or at least given opportunity to imbed – as our eyes first darted across its pages. These insights, often full of hidden treasure and warmth, can further help inform all that is to come in the proceeding chapters and help shape the way we read the overall book.
I am beginning to see how something similar can apply to our own lives. Taking time to highlight the odd sentence and paragraph of all that was, and scribble down a few thoughts, has been invaluable. I can see more of the often hidden ways God has woven beauty, wisdom and abundant love into the everyday, and in doing so given me so much to carry forward into the next chapter and beyond.