Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace

We live in a culture of frenzy.

Double-shot espressos and sugar-charged energy drinks come in a can so we can grab them without waiting in line at the coffee shop. Gas stations offer pay-at-the-pump so we can fuel up without having to engage in bothersome conversation with the clerk. Our cars now come with Bluetooth so we can multi-task on the way to work and save a few minutes of phone calls in the office. We are enslaved by tasks.

And when we get home, it’s not much better: Dinner is often a frozen entree complete with carbs, meat and veggies so we don’t have to waste time individually preparing separate components, and breakfast can be popped in the toaster and shoved in a hungry kid’s hand as she heads out the door. Television is picture-in-a-picture and TiVo so we can watch all of our favorite shows in the same prime-time span (and, of course, use our iPhones to monitor our social media sites while we do so).

Even our leisure time isn’t leisurely. After that period of shoving food in our mouths that we call “dinner,” we rush off to Kid #1’s soccer game, leave half way through to catch the end of Kid #2’s pee wee football game, drop Kid #3 at a friend’s house so we can make an appearance at our church board meeting, then bluster into mid-week yoga class just in time to say “namaste.”

The most extreme example of our culture of chaos I’ve ever seen is Times Square in New York City. I remember seeing it for the first time when there for a conference, emerging from the subway into the heart of Manhattan, and watching an A.D.D. friend of mine stop dead in his tracks. He just stood there, rooted in one spot, mouth hanging open, eyes glazed over — overwhelmed by the light/color/noise coming at us from every angle. We had to shake him to get his attention. New York City moves at a pace that we Midwesterners just can’t handle.

This morning, all of that came to a halt thanks to a force of nature. As Hurricane Sandy heads toward NYC, the city prepares for a possible 10-foot storm surge, which would flood lower Manhattan, Wall Street, subways, tunnels and more. News cams showed a very unusual Monday morning scene in midtown Manhattan — streets void of buses and taxis, sidewalks with only a handful of pedestrians. It’s like God pushed the “pause” button on NYC.

Sometimes I’d like to do that here.

I am entering a season where life is starting to slow down just a little. But I still live in the midst of the frenzy, and I see my younger friends succumbing to it, and I see how we as a society measure it: The busier you are, the more things you can juggle at once, the more programs you (and your kids) are involved in — well, the more successful you appear. Isn’t that how this game works?

Sometimes I bet God just wants to scream, “STOP IT!!!”

But, because he’s God, he whispers it instead: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message)

Pause (even though you’re trying to read this blog entry quickly because you have a dozen things to do today). Read that last paragraph again. Slowly.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? We ARE tired, worn out, burned out. We DO want to recover our lives. That “unforced rhythms of grace” part sounds especially appealing. And “freely and lightly” — what does that even mean?

I’ve been mulling this over for a while, and I think it boils down to this: God wants us to live according to his rhythm for our lives rather than keeping up with the insane pace set by our culture. I’m always afraid I’m going to miss out on something. So in the past I have tried to pack it all in — every class, every meeting, every activity. And I’m afraid that, looking back, there have been many times I’ve experienced many good things but missed out on the best thing — something God had in mind that I blew right by in my quest for self-fulfillment.

Other versions of this same passage tell us to bear Jesus’ yoke because it’s easy and light, and we’ll find rest for our souls. “Rest” in this passage doesn’t equal “lack of activity.” It doesn’t mean just vegging out on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s watching all of the Twilight movies in a row (er — not that there’s anything wrong with that). I think we’re pretty good at wasting hours in front of the TV, mainly because we’re so tired from the rest of our day that all we can do at the end of it is zone out and let someone else entertain us. I’m not suggesting we need more of that kind of “rest.”

Jesus is talking about real rest in this passage. He is talking about recovering our lives — doing the things that God designed to fulfill and energize us: Work that matters. Unhurried conversation with people we care about. Leisurely activities (whether sports or arts or music or whatever) that challenge us and let us express ourselves. Meals that nourish us and give us time to connect with family. Volunteer activities that we’re passionate about and that really help people. Time worshiping and listening to God.

We can’t do all of those things in the same day, or sometimes even in the same week. But we can do them if we start gradually turning away the stuff that doesn’t matter (and this is me calling myself out here, because I’m just a girl who can’t say “no”), and creating more space in our lives for God to fill up with the stuff that does.

And, when none of that is working and we’re so stressed out we can’t think straight, we can do as one of my former professors suggests when he  says: “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.”

One thought on “Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace

  1. Absolutely love reading your blogs! Applying your words of wisdom to my life would make me a better person! Thank you!

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