© Copyright Esther Simpson and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.
I lay there, refusing to open my eyes, silently cursing the sunlight burning my eyelids. I tried to get my bearings with minimum effort: blinds still open, still wearing last night’s clothes, not under duvet, desperately thirsty. I must have crashed out when I got home before I could do anything sensible like get a glass of water and go to bed properly.
It wasn’t intended to be a Big Night. I’d just gone for a couple of drinks after work, like we often do on a Friday night. I was ready to relax after a long week, glad for the chance to let off some steam. The extrovert in me was particularly excited when a few more people than usual turned up, and conversation was easy and funny.
So I paid little attention when one round turned into three, four, and barely noticed myself getting louder and brasher, drawing the group’s attention to myself, telling stories that I knew would get the biggest laughs whatever no matter what light they painted me in.
I was in my element.
The gathering broke up as everyone went home to families, or onwards to parties and pubs, and I remembered I was supposed to be somewhere else – the birthday drinks for a friend that I’d intended on going on to straight after work, before I’d been distracted. At bar number two, I’d barely sat down before a glass of wine had been poured for me, and I didn’t stop to question whether mixing my drinks would work out well for me.
It didn’t. And so there I was, on Saturday morning, torn between the need to get up for water and the dull pain in my head that threatened to push me back down as soon as I tried to sit up.
I soon realised the churning in my stomach wasn’t only the product of my ill-thought-out vodka-wine combo. It was the familiar gut-wrench of regret. Why didn’t I catch myself and stop earlier? Why did I bring up that conversation with my colleagues? Why didn’t I realise that story was in no way appropriate? Why did I think that message was a good idea to send? And did I have to let that happen?
Eurgh. There’s no feeling quite like shame. I tried to calculate if any damage control was needed, but concluded that it would probably just take time to deaden the self-loathing. I drifted in and out of sleep for a while longer, but it wasn’t real rest – just an anxious, grumpy attempt to put more space between my present self, and the last night’s self.
Maybe this is what they mean when they say, ‘there’s no rest for the wicked.’
I may have been leading the service on Sunday morning, but as I stood up and read out the opening words in the book, I spoke them to myself more than to anyone in the congregation.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Grace. The gift, favour and blessing that I have done nothing to earn, given out of love.
Mercy. The freedom from the impossible obligation to set things right by myself.
Peace. The welcome calming of my unsettled heart, assurance that all will be well.
Grace, mercy and peace. The promise of rest.
A couple of hours later, I sat in a nearby cafe with three wonderful women from church, resting in good company. We talked about the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their families, how dysfunctional and messy they were. How reassuring it is that God chooses to work through the people who get it all wrong. How challenging it is that our faults never disqualify us from being part of God’s big story. How even our messiest mistakes can’t mess up God’s work.
I sat back and listened to Jean, a wise older lady, sharing stories of how God had been at work in her life, recounting details from many years ago as if they’d happened just last week. The contrast to my crude, self-centred storytelling from a couple of nights previously was stark in my mind – but my stomach didn’t churn so much at the thought any more. There was rest. I remembered that I too am living a story of God’s grace.
That evening, I stepped up to the microphone at church again, ready for service number two. Again, I led others through prayers of confession, words of forgiveness, moments for quiet intimacy with God, all the while knowing they were words I needed most.
And by the time I was asking the Lord to bless us and keep us, to make his face shine upon us and be gracious to us, to look kindly on us and to give us peace, I was convinced of what had been so hard to believe 36 hours earlier.
There is rest for the wicked. There is peace for the heart restless with regret. There is always a new day. There is always a chance to do it better. In the unfailing, unswerving love of God, there is rest for me.