Here's tool #3 in the toolbox, which invites you to think about the rhythms and patterns in your life. As my friend Ernie likes to say; "There are ways of living that give life, and there are ways of living that... don't." Are your life rhythms life-giving? Read on!
To find the full set of tools, go to Toolbox Central.
If you think of the way a pendulum swings, back and forth along a smooth curve, you have a good mental image for the idea of rhythm. That curved path is represented in the semi-circle shape used in the icon for rhythm.
Physical life is filled with rhythms, like breathing in and out, the beating of our hearts, and the daily switch from being asleep to being awake and then back again. If we ignore these rhythms or try to override them life does not go well for us!
Spiritual life is deeply shaped by rhythm as well. Jesus shows us this in his image of the Vine and Branches in John 15. “Those who abide in me bear much fruit.” he says, which is like the first swing of the pendulum from a time of rest into a time of being productive or “fruitful.” He continues, saying; “Every branch that bears fruit the Father prunes to make it bear more fruit.” That’s the pendulum swinging back again as we “cut back” on our work to return to the time of resting and renewal. From that rest and abiding of course will come even more fruit when the time is right again.
This is the fundamental rhythm in our spiritual life: the movement from abiding and resting in God, out into fruitful work, and then back again.
It’s important to note that while our spiritual life rhythm has two parts, abiding comes first. After all, it’s not as if the branch has to bear fruit first before the vine will let it have any sap! Rest and abiding are not the reward for being productive. Rather, it’s our being filled by God first that naturally results in our ability to do good in the world. “We love because he first loved us” from 1 John 4:19 makes that as clear as can be.
Since abiding is so important to our spiritual life, it’s only wise then that we begin to structure our lives in order to protect our time for abiding. It’s spiritually wise to make our time for abiding into more than just an occasional activity. We want it to become a lifestyle. The way we do that is through establishing and tending rhythms.
A daily rhythm of abiding allows us to integrate our spiritual life into some of the most regular and powerful rhythms we have. As we learn to go into our work day with the deep assurance that we are already loved, valued and affirmed by God, we avoid the temptation to work our way to feeling good about ourselves.
A weekly rhythm of “Sabbath” rest has deep roots in scripture. It appears in the Creation stories (Genesis 2:1-4) and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11), and Jesus made it a habit to take time for Sabbath (Luke 4:16). He also helped us to recover the idea that Sabbath is a gift intended to serve us, not a burdensome set of rules to be kept (Mark 2:23-28).
There are also rhythms of life that are not so regular as a daily or weekly practice. These are more like “seasons” we go through, extended times of work and fruitfulness followed by the “pruning” that lets us find renewal and new directions in life. Developing the ability to recognize spiritual rhythms, to nurture them and respond to them, is an important tool for us to have in hand.