“We long to see our lives whole, to know that they matter. We wonder whether our many activities might ever come together in a way of life that is good for ourselves and others. Lacking a vision of a life-giving way of life, we turn from one task to another, doing as well as we can but increasingly uncertain about what doing things well would look like. We yearn for a deeper understanding of how to order human life in accord with what is good and true.” –Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass, Practicing our Faith
One of the rhythms that I have come to find very necessary in my life is to retreat. No, I’m not at war or battle. Getting away, being re-created, resting. These are the goals that call me.
In the words of The 5 Love Languages, quality time communicates love to me. When I have been pouring my energy out for the sake of others, I must pull away to spend time with God. Otherwise, I find myself dry, tired, and unable to give.
I attended my first guided retreat 4 years ago, almost to the day. For a week, I was away from my work and my family while being led in practices of prayer and worship. One of the more tangible results from that time was my attempt at personalizing Psalm 103. May it serve as a blessing to you today, calling your soul to run away with God.
Psalm 103, as re-written by Rhesa on retreat:
Bless the LORD, O my soul
And all that is within me…
All the love and fear
All the anger and peace
All the dreams and doubts
All the kindness and indifference.
You can find the rest of my Psalm 103 here, at Spiritual Ministries Institute, where I am honored to serve on the board.
One of the most frustrating parts of recognizing rhythms is realizing that some of the limits on me are specifically about me. In order to live in the rhythm that your soul calls for, you have to know yourself.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Where do I feel energized? Is it when I am with people or alone? Is it while reading or playing a game? Where do I draw energy from?
- What commitments in my life are non-negotiable? Family and work are some to consider.
- Where do I experience joy? What do I love to do? What feels fun to me?
- Where do I feel challenged?What activities stretch my personality or comfort zone?
- What drains life from me? When I am done with this task or encounter, I want to take a nap.
These are only suggestions that can lead you to discover what is hard-wired in you. These things are part of the God-gifted limits that exist in your life. For me, I draw energy from being alone and am drained by being with large crowds. I experience great joy in being creative and feel challenged by the lures of perfectionism. Time with my family and being faithful to the calling God has given me are non-negotiable in my life. This knowledge allows me to see some of the boundaries that God has created around me. Continually ignoring these boundaries will lead to burn-out and exhaustion. However, being challenged on occasion in these areas is a healthy way to seek to become more well-rounded and mature.
I am learning to consider the limits of being me as gifts from God designed to protect me as an image-bearer. American culture encourages us to push and rage against limits as they are evil and oppressive. However, limits are not a burden to those who are continually surrendering their own will to the will of God. Instead, limits serve as banks on the river of our lives directing and containing us so that we are powerful and useful.
“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
I grew up hearing that this command meant to go to church on Sunday. Going to church on Sunday is a good idea but not quite enough to keep the Sabbath holy.
Our family honors Sabbath in several ways.
There are rhythms of our year that are about honoring Sabbath. We dedicate some time every summer to family–either through a vacation or a stay-cation. Both are our attempts to honor a rhythm of stopping the productivity to play together. Every year, the first weekday of Christmas vacation is pajama day. We stay in our pajamas all day while we watch movies, bake cookies, and play games together. This is our recognition that the fall pushes our family to the brink of insanity and we need a day to say, “The world will go on without us.”
There are rhythms of our week that are about honoring Sabbath. Sunday afternoons are quiet. My husband and I sleep and the kids play quietly in their rooms, without TV or computers. We rest. Every Friday night that we can is family movie night. We will eat in the living room (a really big deal to our kids) and watch a corny, G-rated movie together. It is a guarantee that the movie will end with a dance party to the credits. We play. We try, at least once a month, to spend Saturday at home. Sometimes that means saying no to birthday parties, baseball games, and playdates. But this is our attempt to say, “The world will go on without us.”
There are rhythms of our day that are about honoring Sabbath. We eat breakfast together, every morning, with no TV or radio on. In some ways, this is about practical planning…who has what, and who is driving whom. In other ways, this is a way that we value family together. We eat dinner together as many nights a week as we can. Sometimes, this means we eat later than normal so that everyone is home. Sometimes this means that we group everybody’s practices and rehearsals on the same night of the week so that we can be home other nights. We eat. Together. We make every effort for everyone to sleep. While our kids are certainly getting older, they still have an early bed time. We honor the rhythms of resting that bodies need, even if the Rangers are playing or a big project is due the next day. This is our attempt to say, “The world will go on without us.”
How are you honoring the rhythm of Sabbath?
Rhythm is all about listening. In music, rhythm is the thread that holds everyone together so that, in fact, music is created, instead of just noise.
Middle school band was a quick lesson in learning to listen to one another while following our director. Mr. Grey was patient and very kind with 12 and 13-year-old kids who had little to no musical training. To his credit, he very rarely winced at the sounds we made and looked for something to praise with every attempt. The bass drum player of the Gilmer Jr. High marching band didn’t want to march with a bass drum. To be honest, I am pretty sure his mom made him be in band in the first place and so we often heard a beat whenever he felt like it, instead of whenever the music called for it. Without a reliable, consistent beat, we didn’t know when to step or where we were in the music. The train wrecks of those summer band camps are still legendary!
In our spiritual lives, there are many rhythms to be listening for. The rhythms of our bodies call us to rest and eat and play. The rhythms of the seasons call us to explore, to let go, to die, and to be born. The rhythms of our families call us to enfold and to open up our circles of relationship. The rhythms of the calendar call us to expect and hope and create space and surrender and celebrate and mourn.
The rhythms of the soul are created from all of these rhythms that propelling us forward and calling us to stop.
But the rhythms of the soul are subtle and quiet, softer than the beating of a butterfly’s wings, requiring us to settle in and listen intently. It is easy to overlook these rhythms for a time but they will not be ignored forever. Eventually, marching out of step with the rhythm of your soul will create a legendary train wreck of you own.
One of the rhythms that Western culture would like to ignore altogether is the rhythm of the life cycle itself. Westerners, Americans in particular, want to resist this created cycle because it limits us to a certain number of years. We, including me, buy products to make us look younger than we are. We, including me, attempt to lengthen our lives. We, including me, resist the limits of growing older. fFinding contentment in our current stage of life pushes against the American dream.
Teenagers long to be old enough for someone to take them seriously. Young adults long for the financial comfort of middle age. Parents of infants long for their babies to be old enough to sleep. Parents of toddlers long for their children to be old enough to feed themselves neatly. Parents of elementary-aged kids long for their children to be able to do their homework on their own. And then, middle-aged adults long for the freedom of teenagers. Empty nesters long for the noise of children. Elderly adults long for the energy of young adults.
Every season has its limits.
I am in a season of elementary-aged kids that call me mom. Every day is packed full. “Mom, where is my baseball glove?” “Mom, can you help me with this math homework?” “Mom, have you washed my jeans yet?” “Mom, what’s for dinner?” “Mom, are you driving carpool today?” “Mom, can I have a friend spend the night?” “Mom, can I watch TV?” “Mom, will you french braid my hair?” “Mom…”
I will not pretend that I enjoy every moment of it. I don’t. I feel limited, held back. restrained by this season of life. Someone always needs me!
And yet, this is my season. I can fight the limits of this season or I can embrace this holy space that I have been placed in. The choice is always mine.
Today, I choose to name and honor this season of life, including its limits, as gifts from God.
We’ll see about tomorrow.
A conversation about rhythms must include the idea that everything has its season.
What season of the soul do you find yourself in?
“I desire to live a sane and holy rhythm that reflects a deep love for God and respect for how I have been created.” –Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook
Yes, that is the rhythm that I desire as well. A sane and holy rhythm, emphasis first on the sane!
- Is it sane to expect my body to thrive on 4 hours of sleep and coffee?
- Is it sane to expect my soul to flourish on snatched seconds of prayer?
- Is it sane to expect relationships to thrive on one line emails?
I seem to have sane, realistic, and logical expectations for things that exist outside of myself. For instance, I know that my flower beds need water to live and so I set my sprinklers to run regularly. I know that my car needs frequent oil changes. I know that my children need at least 10 hours of sleep to be pleasant to be around.
Why is it so hard to have the same perspective on my own being? I feel restricted by the demands of my body to rest, to eat regularly and healthy-ly, to excercise. I feel oppressed by these basic requirements; locked in and limited.
Is it human nature to resist these confinements of our being?
It is certainly my nature to resist limits. I hear statements often of “Be all you can be.” and “Work harder, faster, longer.” Those messages sink in deeper than I would like to admit to shape the expectations that I have of myself and my performace. And so the second half of the quote above calls to me…”respect for how I have been created.”
The rhythm of my life must show respect for how I have been created. I have been created to require sleep, food, and movement. I have been created to require relationship and community. I have been created to require silence, solitude, and prayer.
I have been created; I am not the Creator.
“It is my conviction that our Heavenly Father says the same to us everyday: “My dear child, you must always remember who you are.” –John Stott
I certainly live a filled up life. The demands of marriage, children, ministry, and friendship are many and time-consuming.
But do I live a full life?
That is another question entirely. How does it look on my Outlook calendar? Do I have time to live ‘life to the full’ and keep my house clean? What does a full life feel like?
How would Jesus have defined ‘life to the full’?
Earlier in this passage in John, Jesus is talking about sheep knowing their shepherd and responding to his voice. Jesus is teaching that there is a way of life that leads to death and a way of life that leads to life. The only way to know for sure between the two, is to listen for the shepherd’s voice.
This month, we are going to talk about rhythms of life…life-giving rhythms that put us in tune with the shepherd’s voice.
“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10
One of the benefits of practicing examen regularly, is noticing themes and patterns that occur. For instance, I am forever aware that I am least loving before 10am and when cleaning the house. This pattern comes up all the time in my practice of examen. So, I know that in the morning I must be very aware of the Spirit in me asking me to respond with love and patience. And when I am cleaning the house, I must be aware that my tendency towards perfectionism comes out and gets ugly. So, I must ask the Spirit to remind me to be self-disciplined and to move towards love instead.
I also make a regular habit of reviewing a month at a time. I simply read back through my journal looking for themes from that period of time. After I have reviewed my own writing and sometimes my calendar as well, I ask God for an image to represent that month. The image that came from March of this year was a turtle. As I experienced stress surrounding my husband’s open heart surgery and recovery, I had withdrawn into myself, like a turtle hides in its shell. God’s invitation to me that month was to come out now because it was safe. I am not an artist so I simply used PowerPoint to create a slide of the image. Now, at the end of the year, I will have a single slide from each month as a way to see how God has moved in my life.
This is one of many ways to use examen to notice God moving in the big, and small areas of your life, and to notice how you are responding to those movements.
May your practice of noticing God be rich!