Busy doing nothing

Busy doing nothing

For our summer holidays in 2015, my friends and I hired a cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District. There were some spectacular views, some spectacular food and a lot of spectacular rainfall. Thankfully, it only rained early in the morning and in the evening, so we were able to walk, go for a trip on Windermere and visit a lot of cake shops (you’ve got to love a fruity scone).

We spent a lot of time just relaxing in the cottage. Halfway through the week, I realised that we didn’t speak much when we spent time together in the lounge. We weren’t sitting awkwardly in silence or staring into space (well, I did a bit of that, but I think that was just me), we were reading, playing some solo games or doing a crossword.

I started to stress about this a bit. Why weren’t we laughing hilariously all the time, like people seem to in adverts? Why weren’t we taking selfies? Why weren’t we putting the world to rights or discussing deep, philosophical matters? I grew a little disappointed in myself. I began to wonder if I wasn’t very good company. I’m not a huge fan of ‘banter’ (and even less of a fan when it’s shortened to ‘bants’), but I had thought myself to be more of a raconteur than seemed to be the case.

I am an inveterate worrier, so this thought played on my mind. If I wasn’t very good company, then these friends might not want to carry on spending time with me. If we didn’t come home with tales of the times we spent talking late into the night or of when we did amazing things, then perhaps I was a bit of a friend failure.

In the 21st century, we’re assaulted on all side by images of what our lives should be like: adverts feature ideal lifestyles, people’s Facebook feeds are crammed with photos of them living life to the full, TV programmes and websites feature lists of 50 things to do before you die (‘Come on! Swim with dolphins!’). If we judge ourselves by these standards, as I had started to, sitting in that cottage in Grasmere, we will always come up short. Because these are idealised, carefully edited pictures of the perfect life. They’re not real life.

And after a bit of fretting, I realised that we weren’t failing to have an amazing time, we were enjoying doing nothing together. And once I’d worked this out, I enjoyed myself all the more – reading a book, watching the birds feeding in the garden, playing patience. If you’re single and live on your own, you don’t get much opportunity to share this ‘doing nothing’ time with anyone else. And so, this time doing very little as the rain cascaded down outside became very precious.

The journalist Felicity Green once said, ‘I have plenty of people to do things with, but I just have no one to do nothing with.’ She made this comment after she had been widowed, having spent years together with her husband. Esther Rantzen and the actor Sheila Hancock have both said similar things after losing their husbands. Getting used to being alone after sharing life with someone for so long must be heart-rending, but this idea of having no one to do nothing with applies to all single people.

So much of life is constructed around doing ‘things’. We arrange to meet for dinner, we go to the football, we go out for a walk. We never invite people round to our house to spend an afternoon binge-watching a box set or to sit with us as we do the ironing.

It’s the same with church – small groups, prayer evenings, services and other regular meetings are complemented by special events around festivals or the local calendar. It’s all do, do, do and there’s little time to be. We have the idea that if we do something that isn’t structured or doesn’t involve anything explicitly spiritual, we’re wasting everyone’s time. Even during times of retreat, when we’re meant to stop being busy, the expectation is there that you’ll spend the time in prayer and meditation. I’ve never heard of a retreat time when a group of people are told just to sit about together and do nothing in particular…

I wonder what ‘doing nothing’ looks like in church. How can we connect people together and help facilitate this important, but woefully underrated part of our lives? There’s no doubt that providing a space to do nothing, or a network of people who would be happy to pop round and do nothing with each other would be of great help to many people of all ages. And as churches, we are uniquely placed to provide something like this. So why don’t we?

This article was first seen in Mothers’ Union’s outreach magazine Families First www.familiesfirstmagazine.com

A singularity of one

A singularity of one

My name’s Alex Taylor. I’m 40 years old. And I’m a man.

That seems a bit of strange thing to say as an opening line, but my name is unisex and there is the potential for confusion.

And I’m single.

Not divorced, separated or widowed, but long-term, never-been-married single.

I realise that this seems quite unusual – not really in the UK in general, where 28% of all households only have one person – but certainly in the Church. And let’s face it, the Church isn’t great with single people. We just don’t ‘fit’.

Let me take you back a few years. I’m sitting in a prayer meeting. There are clusters of people in small groups (we’re all close together, it’s quite a small room). We’re running through the list of prayer requests, which someone has just presented on a PowerPoint (yes, it was one of those ‘shopping list’ prayer meetings – don’t you just love them?). In fact, they’ve spent so long explaining everything that we’ve very little time to actually pray. At the end of the meeting, a woman turns round and says excitedly, ‘While we were praying, I knew you were behind me and I prayed that you’d find someone, because you’d be so dynamic if you had a wife!’

Really.

I spluttered some surprised and incoherent response and watched her walk out of the door, wondering what had just happened.

And I can’t shake the feeling that this is how lots of people in the Christian world view me and other single people like me. I have lots of stories where my singleness has been unintentionally belittled (while talking about joining the youth ministry team, someone asked me if I had a ‘Godly Christian woman’ as if it were a prerequisite to serving.) Whenever you go to a conference and you read the speakers’ profiles, male contributors are almost always married to a beautiful and supportive wife, with at least two lovely children. You never see a biography like this:

‘Alex Taylor is an enthusiastic baker, singer and fan of Bolton Wanderers. He is single and has no children.’

A single male friend of mine always found himself being volunteered to do things in the church – be on the PCC, do youth work, help with setting chairs out… It turned out that people thought he should get involved because he was a single and child-free man and so had lots of time to volunteer. His church obviously had the idea that he was sitting around, waiting for things to crop up to spend his masses of free time on, all because he didn’t have a wife and/or children.

And that’s just not true. Being single and child-free isn’t an empty existence. However, the Church and the Christian world works in couples and families, and never seems to understand singleness, male singleness in particular. It celebrates (quite rightly) the landmarks in life associated with getting married and having children: engagements, weddings, baptisms and christenings. But there are no such landmarks in the life of a single man. So you end up being volunteered for everything while nothing in your life is celebrated.

And to make it worse, some churches tend to lump all single people together into one group and treat them all the same, like some kind of ‘single’ ghetto. But single people are all different, with different life stories, different experiences of being single. There used to be an over-30s group at my church. I went a few times, but found it an unsatisfying experience because of the different needs of those in the group: there were those who were content in their singleness, but some had had singleness forced upon them, while others desperately wanted a partner and it had never happened.

These different standpoints can be as alien to each other as that of a married person. Those who are happily single and those who have to cope with singleness as an unwanted reality can have widely varying emotions towards romantic relationships. I stopped going because of this, and I’m not sure it’s still running.

I don’t want to be part of a ghetto – grouping all the single people together says to me that you don’t understand me, you don’t know what to do with me and hope that this is a solution to the ‘problem’. But my marital status is not a problem to be solved. As a single man, I don’t feel incomplete, but sometimes the church and the Christians within have treated me as if I were so, waiting for the time when I might meet a woman, get married and see all my issues resolved.

I love my single life and I love being part of a church. I want to be part of a church which values everyone regardless of their family status. I want to be part of a church which celebrates the achievements of all. I want to be part of a church where people from all backgrounds and family situations can mix and be support each other. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

 

This article was first seen in Mothers’ Union’s outreach magazine Families First www.familiesfirstmagazine.com
Photograph taken by Will Commercial Photography

Ten things I have learnt so far

Ten things I have learnt so far

On this rather cold Friday afternoon, I’ve come to a pause in my work. Some of my projects have finished and others are in various stages of waiting. So I thought I’d make myself a cup of coffee with my new machine and look back at my first four months working as Creative Daydream. In a move that should only be described as ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, rather than simply ‘stealing’, I’m going to make a list of ten things I have learnt, after Becca Dean (@beccadean).

1 Darren Hill has done wonders with my website. I have had so many great comments about the website, and I can’t really take much credit for it! All I did was come up with the text and then Darren worked his magic* on it. And lovely it is too.

2 I am terrible at resisting temptation. To eat, that is. Being so close to my entire food supply is incredibly tricky. The temptation to make for the kitchen cupboard every five minutes has been so overwhelming that I’ve moved as far away as I can, without actually being outside.

3 People have received me with such warmth and encouragement. I have to say, this surprised me a little, I don’t know why. But every time I’ve talked with someone about work, rather than being met with resistance and awkwardness, people have been really open and welcoming. So thank you, people-I-have-already-worked-with, you’ve made starting this venture much smoother than it might have been.

4 I love writing. I was surprised initially when the majority of my work turned out to be writing, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Some commissions have been trickier than others, but they’ve all taught me something about various writing styles, and helped me improve. So if you want anything written, you know where I am… 😉

5 I love being creative even more. There have been a couple of projects that have given me the chance to get the big pieces of paper out and let my imagination run riot. It was fabulous to be so free in coming up with new ideas. I’d love to do more.

6 My feet get cold really quickly. Not as quickly as they did when I took the youth group ice skating (I didn’t even go on the ice and my big toe went completely white), but they do get chilly. I have developed a coping mechanism made up of a duvet, Totes Toasties** and giant slippers.

7 Collaboration is the future, but takes careful planning. I put together some films for a Lent project with two very creative people, but I struggled a bit because we didn’t do the creative work face to face. I found discussing things over the phone or via email very difficult. There was a natural lag in the conversation caused by a delay in the phone line, and I didn’t know if my collaborators were being reticent because they didn’t like my ideas or if it was just the mobile network. Next time, I’m going to insist on being in the same room! The films are fantastic though. Check them out here.

8 I’m useless at Popmaster. I like having the chance to listen to a bit of radio when I work, but when Popmaster comes on, my quizzing credentials go out the window – I rarely get into double figures. Sorry Matt Bayfield, I feel I’ve let you down somehow…

9 I don’t miss being in an office as much as I thought I would. I’ve managed to put stuff in the diary that means I see people regularly and don’t turn into a mad man who constantly talks to himself.*** And sometimes the solitude allows me to concentrate! Also having great friends and good hobbies outside of work helps massively. I do miss office conversation though – have you got your wide-fitting trainers on Eddie?

10 I’ve loved the variety. So far I’ve done work with Youthwork Magazine, Scripture Union, Jo Dolby, Becca Dean, Authentic Media, Youth For Christ, BRF, the SU/American Bible Society international partnership, Childrenswork Magazine, Speakeasy writers’ group and my friend Mel. Brilliant.

This is only a snapshot, I’m still learning so much! And here’s to learning more in the future too.

 

*Metaphorical magic of course, he’s not a warlock.

**Other thermal slipper socks are available.

***Though I have to say that I’ve always talked to myself, so this is actually nothing new.