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Lunch W Jo1

Jo Ind, writer and consultant in digital media, who’s currently working for the BBC, opened up conversation for us about the juggle of life, at our February City Women lunch.  How do we find the path of life as we search for the right work and define the boundaries to our work? What are the different things that need space in my life at the moment?  Jo shared her comments from an exchange of emails with Sarah Thorpe:

My perception of my life is that I am hanging on in there by a thread.

I am trying to do more things than it is possible to do – look after my family, earn enough money to keep the family afloat, be part of a church community, offer something to the wider community (Bringing Hope).  I also like to keep the house clean and tidy, look after the garden, enjoy my friends and somewhere in amongst all of that I want a space for my own writing.  And finding time for prayer and walking and being with nature matters too.

It’s not about doing things well.  I wish it was, but it isn’t.  I can’t do anything as well as I want.  What I have to do is try to hold everything in balance but it’s a very fragile eco-system.  

In the past five months, I have been going to lots of workshops and lectures for self-employed people and small businesses in which the great and the good (including me as Google) share their expertise on how to be successful in business.  The thing of which there is no doubt is that if you want to be successful, you have to work very, very hard.  There isn’t anybody who disputes that and I know it to be true.

But how can I work very, very hard at work when there are other priorities, outside my work, which I’m not willing to sacrifice on the altar of my work?  I end up leading a “just about” life.

Rapha is happy and secure – just about

I am able to contribute to the world of work and earn enough to keep our bodies and souls together – just about

I am part of a church community – just about

I do offer something to Bringing Hope – just about

For fleeting moments my house is tidy – just about 

But it’s so fragile.  At any moment, anything could happen to skew the balance of it all. I can break a hand, my husband can lose his vision, Rapha can have increased needs, my bank balance can get down to zero, work can becoming so demanding that the family doesn’t get a summer holiday.  All of these things can and do happen.

So I feel as though I’m just hanging on in there by a thread.  I don’t feel that I’m doing it well.  I feel as though I’m doing it just about.

How do we live with this tension?  There’s encouragement in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ words (from “Women who run with the Wolves”), which reassure us that there is a creativity in the tension between the juggle of  jobs in “topside life” and the continuing deep process of growth and life:

 “tension makes a precious and deeply turned life that can be made no other way”.

Jo’s honesty opened up questions for each of us, “How far am I hanging in in there by a thread, ‘just about’?”, “What are the challenges of hanging on in there by a thread?”, and, “What are the strengths of hanging on in there by a thread?”

During last year, Jo had to search for new work.  How did the juggle of priorities impact on how she wrote her CV and engaged in this search? How did Jo discern life-giving opportunities in this process?

Jo’s previous work finished in December 2014 and in January 2015 Jo broke her hand and could not work: this gave her “sabbatical” time to pray.  This retreat time took her to the deeper questions, “Who am I?”, “Who is God?”.  Jo read the book “The Artist’s Rule: nourishing your creative soul with monastic wisdom” by Christine Valters Paintner during this time and found it invaluable.  It opened up a deeper level of what she wanted from her work: for Jo, she identified that she wanted her work to flow from the heart, holding a stone that she’d painted with a pink nail varnish heart to remind her of this.  This time opened up the deeper level of work as service to God:

“In Benedictine spirituality, work is what we do to continue what God wanted done. Work is co-creative. Keeping a home that is beautiful and ordered and nourishing and artistic is co-creative. Working in a machine shop that makes gears for tractors is co-creative. Working in an office that processes loan applications for people who are trying to make life more humane is co-creative…. We work because the world is unfinished and it is ours to develop. We work with a vision in mind…. Work is a commitment to God’s service.” (quoting Joan Chittister).

From this depth, this vision of work that is far wider than paid employment, Jo could honestly explore how she fitted in to the market.  Sometimes, she had to simply say she didn’t know the answer to the barrage of questions – public or private sector, communications or marketing, this or that.  Space was needed for this time of exploration and vulnerability, when Jo was tentatively looking for a fit: her deeper retreat resourced her to allow this, not curtailing it or hurrying through it simply because the world was clamouring for it to be fully formed.

What Bible verse helps to anchor Jo, in the juggle of it all, particularly when she’s feels that she’s hanging on in there by a thread?

“How blessed are those who know their need of God: the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3 NEB).

Bless us in all that we juggle, at work and beyond;

bless us as we use and offer our competence and skills;

bless us as we acknowledge and offer our vulnerability and fragility;

bless all who are hanging on in there by a thread, just about, today.

Bless us as we stay in step together through the challenges and delights

of work and life and exploration.