Learning how to rest: Interview with Kerry McLeish

In pursuit of rest, Kerry McLeish signed up to CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training. Helen Harwood found out why this wasn’t a mistake.

HH: Can you tell us how you heard about the Pioneer course here at CMS, and how you feel you were led to join us?

KM: I first saw a leaflet about the Pioneer course at New Wine several years ago and although I was drawn to it, my situation at the time would not have allowed it and I really had no particular reason for embarking on the course.

Over a weekend in June 2015 God had been speaking in a number of ways about the idea of a retreat house and there was a sense in which I might need some sort of qualification in order to fulfil the role involved. Remembering the leaflet I had seen at New Wine I thought the Pioneer course might be a place to take the seed idea forward.

So to pick up on your ‘seed’, I know you have a seed of an idea around providing a place of rest for the weary; not a Christian retreat centre, somewhere available and suitable for Christians and non-Christians alike. I also know you want to recognise the busyness of life for most people and how difficult we find it to take a day of rest. Can you tell us more about how you were led to this idea and your thinking?

I suppose in part it has come out of my own struggle with rest and a recognition that this is a common problem today for many, and from those experiences that have been both helpful and unhelpful over the years. As I said God spoke very clearly last summer and since then the idea is becoming clearer and more focussed around the idea of providing a place of rest. The course is helping enormously both in relation to what we have been studying and also having people around who get the idea and can challenge and encourage me.

I know you are starting to try this out in your own home but hope eventually to consider buying somewhere more fit for purpose, possibly a farm; but for now – how is it working out in your own home? Does it bring additional pressures to home life?

I am still at a very early stage but the response from those I have invited and who have come has been extremely positive. So far it has been women only and one of the noticeable features has been how contested taking a day of rest seems to be, either through illness or circumstances preventing it happening at the last moment or through not feeling free to take time to rest. Now my sons are living away from home we have the space in our period home and live in a beautiful Oxfordshire village on the edge of the downs, which provides a conducive setting. At the moment people only come for the weekend, which means the impact on home life is minimal.

As someone who sees their own spiritual director about three times a year I feel spiritual direction brings a lot to one’s walk with God. Can you tell us more about what it is like actually being one?

It is an enormous privilege. I have done some counselling and some listening in the past but this is very different. The focus is all about what God is doing, teaching and saying in someone’s life, therefore not only focussed on problems or struggles. So as a spiritual director you get to see more of what God is doing and get to share in something of individual’s journey with him.

You told me, Kerry, that you hope spiritual direction skills will be part of your future mission to bring rest to the weary, can you say how you expect to use these skills and any problems or opportunities you envisage?

It seems that many people today find stopping working and resting incredibly difficult. Although you can rest in an activity you do need to stop your normal work, which some find very hard, not least because identifying what constitutes your work is not always straight forward. I imagine that some might find it useful to have help with learning how to rest, what resting looks like for them. I also hope that this place of rest will be somewhere that people can more easily hear what God may be trying to say to them. It may be appropriate to offer my time and my spiritual direction skills to help explore these issues.

You were doing some writing on rediscovering God’s idea of home. Where this has led you and how it will be utilised?

Rediscovering God’s idea of home has been a long and exciting journey. Whatever else this retreat house will be like my hope is that people would be able to feel at home there and even discover something more of what this means. I would hope that something of what I have learned about home will inform how the space is developed, prepared and experienced.

Your life is very full, as a trustee in a school for children with special needs in Uganda and a trustee on a grant making charity that funds projects in disadvantaged communities in this country. You told me: “The rest thing is really where my passion lies.” Are you able to model that rest with such a busy life? And what can we pray for you about?

Actually my life is nowhere near as busy now as it used to be and that is one of the things I have learned on the journey. Having a busy life is not the same as having a full life. Learning to rest myself is a challenge but as my mother in law said recently, “It’s no use trying to help others rest if you don’t know how to rest yourself.” I am learning!  I suppose that would be my prayer request, that I learn what God means by rest and what that looks like in today’s world. Also as we search for the right setting that I would be able to hear his leading and not get carried away with my own ideas.

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