One thing I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit is that he/she is very gentle and very easy to ignore. Sometimes I’ll have an impulse to do something or contact someone and I squash it down because I’m busy ‘doing important things’ but on the occasions when I have paid attention and followed my impulse it’s often been a God-thing and one time in particular I’m really grateful I listened.
A few years ago I was really ground down, working in the British national health service, dealing with people’s problems all the time and also dealing with a dysfunctional work environment where there was a lot of conflict between staff, people were leaving so you had to work harder to fill the gaps and there was very little support. The city where I live is expensive and I was saving up for my own place really slowly; I was working part-time but knew if I increased to full time I’d be even more miserable. It didn’t feel right to move somewhere cheaper because I’d moved around a lot in life and was finally feeling rooted in a community and in good relationships. Being a good Christian girl I tend to take too much responsibility for things and the power struggle between my seniors was really stressing me out, I felt like I should be able to resolve it somehow. Things got so bad I had fleeting thoughts of suicide, I remember walking past my oven and thinking “Oh, gassing myself would be much more pleasant than slitting my wrists”. I wasn’t clinically depressed as I was still enjoying fun things if I made time to do them, I was sleeping ok and my energy got restored with rest but I was in a state of long-term anxiety and I guess at times I just wanted it to end. I really enjoy studying and worked out that I had just enough in my savings account to live for a year without working and pay for a masters degree so I toyed with that idea, but then what would I do afterwards? (Gas myself at that point? Go on a missions trip and get other people to support me for a bit?!!)

Anyway, one of the bosses left so the pressure eased off a bit and a few months later a new initiative for my locality got advertised on nhsmail, part of which was for people doing my job to be funded to study a masters degree part-time. Not only that, the scheme paid you a salary to cover a day a week’s worth of time for 2 years. The catch is that if you stop working for the NHS locally within 5 years you have to pay it all back, but still, pretty darn miraculous in the current financial climate. If you know anything about nhsmail you’ll agree it’s like a waterfall of information and needs almost a full-time commitment just to keep up with it. I noticed the email, went to the relevant meeting and then got busy doing important things, being a good girl and keeping all the plates spinning.

One Thursday I was getting ready for a shift starting at midday, so a leisurely morning and I was thinking about the scheme and how I should trawl back through my emails and find out how and when to apply when I just felt this prompting to pick up the phone instead because an old friend was involved in setting it all up. I almost didn’t do it: “I should do the washing up”, “He’s probably in clinic”, “I should sort out those other emails first” and also because I’m not great on the phone. But I did it. My friend was in fact in clinic but he was between patients and he answered and said “The deadline’s tomorrow but you’d be an ideal candidate, if you email this person an expression of interest today I’m sure we can extend the deadline til after the weekend”…
So I got the funding along with 2 others and just a few weeks ago I submitted my dissertation. I have really enjoyed studying. I’m in a different workplace which is also quite dysfunctional and I haven’t walked into a PhD or a cushy research job but I’m hopeful about the future. I know God provided that opportunity and gave me the nudge to take hold of it, and he knows what sort of work will be good for me as well as good for others. I was brought up in a very Christian environment with a strong service ethic and I was taught/assumed that it was God’s will for me to prioritise other people all the time and that my needs weren’t important. The fact that that drove me to a place where I had almost no joy and death seemed like a reasonable way out makes me really sad. But I’m realising that it makes God sad too and I’m so glad I listened to him and didn’t miss the deadline. I’m trying to learn how to tune out the big, booming, instruction-issuing voices and how to tune into the quiet, gentle voice that is very easy to ignore.