Do you ever have days like that?
I’d been really looking forward to it. Three days away at a conference – getting some useful input, away from the pressures of church life, a chance to catch up with some old friends… and excellent food. What’s more, my wife and I were going together, so it was a kind of mini-holiday.
We needed to drive away at 11:30, so we were having a brief meeting with a couple of other leaders to make sure everything was going to be ok while we were away. The car was sitting outside, bags inside, ready to go. To me it felt like I was almost on holiday already. Ready to switch off and enjoy the break.
Then at 11:22 my phone rang. It was the headteacher from the school where I’m chair of governors. I debated not answering. After all, you do need to protect your times of rest. But I’d seen her earlier that morning, so it probably was urgent. I stepped outside the room and pressed Answer.
“Have you got a minute, Tom?”
“A couple – but we’re about to leave for the conference.”
“I’ve just had ‘the call’. Ofsted are going to be in for the next two days.”
We’d been anticipating the Ofsted inspection for months. The need to get the school, and the governing body, in better shape for it had been what had prompted me to become chair. And I thought we had a good story to tell, so in a funny way I’d been hoping they’d come. But just not this week!
I don’t mind plans changing. I quite enjoy last-minute. But I’m not good at having things I’d been looking forward to threatened. If there’s any chance of keeping them, I start putting pressure on people and acting irrationally to make sure they still happen. If there isn’t, I get sulky.
And in that moment, as I walked back into the room. God allowed me to step outside myself and see that weakness in me. Times when I’d reacted badly in the past raced through my mind in high-speed video. And I realised that the important thing was not how to sort out the problem, but how I was going to respond emotionally.
So as we got in the car and I let Helen drive (not my normal male reaction at times of stress!), I experienced a supernatural peace. A peace strong enough to withstand another bit of bad news in an email 10 minutes later, saying that a training weekend I’d spent hours the previous week sorting out would need to be redone from scratch because I’d been told the wrong date.
The conference wasn’t the breather I’d been hoping for. I spent all the breaks on Monday on the phone to other governors, then playing phone tag with the Ofsted inspector to agree when in the two days I would meet her. Tuesday evening I was in my room preparing what I was going to say to the inspection. I missed all of Wednesday morning too, as I grabbed a quick breakfast and drove back down through the rush hour traffic to get to the meeting. Even the sessions I did get to, my mind was wandering.
But as I looked back, I realised I had gained far more from what had happened than I would have done from an uninterrupted time away. I’d discovered the freedom that comes from letting go of cherished plans and expectations. I’d discovered that times of rest are a gift from God, not an idol to be worshipped. I’d learnt that when God promises a peace that passes understanding, he really means it. I’d discovered the lengths he’s prepared to go to – to sort my heart out.
“It’s hard to imagine the freedom you find …from the things you leave behind.” – Michael Card