Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace

rest in unforced rhythms+

 

Rest.

I’m a huge proponent of it, in theory. I see its value for other people. I just can’t seem to figure out how to do it myself.

What’s undone weighs heavily on me. I can’t escape the feeling I’m not doing enough. My to-do list looms before me daily.

Draft a blog post. Call a struggling friend. Write a thank you note. Schedule a doctor’s appointment. Work on a talk. Figure out how to use Evernote. Plan a graduation party. Purge the file cabinets. Finish the girls’ scrapbooks (from 10 years ago).

I’m ashamed to admit it, but a good day to me is defined by getting things accomplished on my list. Not the people I’ve touched. Not the time I’ve spent with God. Not the things I’ve learned. Just what I’ve done.

But what am I accomplishing with all my busyness?

I had been sitting with this question for months, when a friend mentioned Jesus’ rhythm of life. He changed the world in His three years of public ministry. Yet He also knew when to rest.

So I started looking at the life of Jesus, how He spent His days, as detailed in the Gospels.

Jesus never seemed hurried, though He was inundated by people with urgent needs. Much of the time He was surrounded by crowds, with barely enough time to catch His breath. Events happened quickly, tumbling one after the other. He went from preaching in a synagogue to casting out a demon to healing a sick friend to ministering to the whole city gathered at His door at sundown. And this was just one day! (Mark 1:21-34)

But after this one day, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

After ministering to others, and before pouring Himself out again, Jesus left everyone and spent time with God. This pattern is repeated throughout the Gospels.

After John the Baptist’s death, Jesus said to the disciples, “’Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:31-32, italics mine)

Jesus knew that when the disciples were physically and mentally exhausted, too busy even to attend to their own physical needs, it was time to withdraw and rest.

Jesus understood the importance of balance.  And so He incorporated rhythms of rest into His life. The Message translates Matthew 11:28-30, “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.”

I’ll show you how to take a real rest…watch how I do it.

Jesus doesn’t just offer rest. He shows us how to do it. It is necessity, not a luxury. An act of worship, not a sign of laziness.

In His earthly life, Jesus displayed many facets of rest. Spiritual rest. Physical rest. Mental rest.

First and foremost, Jesus modeled spiritual rest. He took time to be alone with God. This was the highest priority of His life as He knew He needed to hear God’s voice, understand God’s direction, and rest in God’s presence.

Spiritual rest is the type of rest I understand best. I see its importance. It requires discipline. And it looks godly. For a recovering Pharisee, that makes it easy.

But beyond that, I truly enjoy spending time with God alone. Whether it be in the early morning or for a few days on a silent retreat, I am renewed as I am quiet in the Lord’s presence. He knows my deepest needs. He fills me when I’m empty. He knows what is best for me. And it is only when I am still that I can hear His voice above the din of my life.

Jesus also modeled physical rest. He fell asleep in a boat with the disciples in the midst of a raging storm (Mark 4:35-41). Even when others frantically wanted His help, Jesus was willing to take a nap. He knew when His body needed physical rest and was unapologetic about taking it.

I too need physical rest, but I often feel almost ashamed of this need. I rarely nap. Sleep seems like a luxury in the middle of the day, even when I’m exhausted. It feels irresponsible. Even lazy. Sleeping in feels slothful as well, while pushing myself with little sleep almost earns a badge of honor.

But the truth is, denying myself physical rest is not a virtue. It is a form of pride. I’m impatient when I’m tired. I can’t enjoy what’s in front of me. I don’t treasure people. God is inviting me to care for and pay attention to the physical body that He has entrusted to me.

Lastly, Jesus modeled mental rest. He was unafraid to pull away and leave the crowds, even when they desperately wanted Him. He would get into a boat with the disciples and go to the other side, away from the multitudes. It was often in the midst of chaos, when people were clamoring for Him. But Jesus was clear on what God was calling Him to do, so other people’s pressing needs and their desire for His presence didn’t drive His activity.

Honestly, I constantly struggle with this type of rest. The urgent often drives my activity and I let others’ demands and felt needs determine what I do. Because in my mind, if I don’t do it, it won’t get done. It’s all up to me.

But in actuality, nothing is ultimately up to me. It’s all up to God. And He doesn’t need my exhausted, frenzied help to accomplish His purposes. He is inviting me to slow my pace, savor His gifts and enjoy the present moment without worrying about what’s not done. And as I do that, I make space for the things that are life-giving to me. I feel energized, creative, and open to new ideas. And my soul feels more at rest.

Jesus’ example is profoundly changing my idea of rest. I see the value of an unhurried heart and body. And how that impacts all aspects of my life.

Most of us are able to achieve at least one facet of rest. But few of us know how to embrace them all.

Yet God is calling all of us to fully rest in Him. To enjoy spiritual, physical and mental rest. When we do, we will recover our lives. And then we will learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

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As I sense God’s call to rest, I am taking a sabbatical and will not be writing any posts for the next few months. For those of you reading this, I encourage you to ask the Lord what aspect of His rest you need to lean into this summer.

I’m praying that you will find your abundant rest in Him.

 

  • May 19, 2016 - 4:55 pm

    Anne - I was absolutely fine with your timely and encouraging blog post until I got to the part about your not posting! 🙂 Enjoy your rest! I will be excited to learn from you once again what God has taught you through your rest.ReplyCancel

    • May 19, 2016 - 5:02 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Anne! I’m excited to see what the Lord will do IN me during this rest. May your summer will be restful as well!ReplyCancel

  • May 20, 2016 - 7:48 am

    Martha - Vaneetha, the words you ended spoke to the depths of my heart, and I truly sensed God was speaking right through the you. Your journey has been a difficult one, but I have been so richly blessed as I know many others have with all you have shared that you have learned through difficulty.
    May you experience much rest in every aspect, and may the presence of God encompass you with His peace, grace and mercy. He will continue to do NGOs in you:) I am looking forward to hearing about them!
    Blessing and much love.ReplyCancel

    • May 20, 2016 - 2:01 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Martha! Praying God gives you His abundant rest this summer…ReplyCancel

  • May 20, 2016 - 7:55 am

    Laura - Your words are so true! Thank you for sharing your heart and the scriptures with us. Enjoy your rest and blessings to you.ReplyCancel

  • May 20, 2016 - 12:29 pm

    Elizabeth - Your words are always so perfectly timed for me. This morning as I read your post, I told my daughter I thought you crawled right up into my brain and heart. We are leaving in the morning for the first family vacation in a very long time. My husband and daughter have been excited for weeks. Me, on the other hand, have only been more stressed thinking about packing, pet care, cleaning, keeping up with work and other obligations while I am gone…These words: “But in actuality, nothing is ultimately up to me. It’s all up to God. And He doesn’t need my exhausted, frenzied help to accomplish His purposes. He is inviting me to slow my pace, savor His gifts and enjoy the present moment without worrying about what’s not done. And as I do that, I make space for the things that are life-giving to me. I feel energized, creative, and open to new ideas. And my soul feels more at rest.” are what I am packing right after my Bible, journal and favorite devotional. Thank you for sharing your heart and words. Hugs through the computer, my friend, as we go rest in Him. Phil 1:3ReplyCancel

    • May 20, 2016 - 2:03 pm

      Vaneetha - I so relate to your struggle, Elizabeth. I find leaving for vacation the least restful time for me! But I pray that as you are away, the Lord will give you a sense of His perfect rest.ReplyCancel

  • May 20, 2016 - 2:30 pm

    Elaine - I will miss reading posts but have something to look forward to. I am so glad that you are doing what you shared in this blog. Prayers of renewal, refreshment and peace. Blessings my friend.ReplyCancel

  • May 21, 2016 - 12:24 am

    Allyson - I want to cry and protest how much I need your blog posts, but 🙂 that would defeat the whole purpose of this post!!! As an individual with multiple autoimmune illnesses that have crept up over the last two years, I have struggled so much in finding the balance with rest and serving whomever is in need in front of me- friends, family, my children, coworkers. I think Christian culture has fueled a lot of guilt and shame over rest that I have acquired into my faith. This post is such a great reminder to forget about Christian culture, and let’s look at what Jesus did. I suppose I will just have to spend the next few months rereading your previous posts. There are so many that are so precious to my heart!ReplyCancel

  • May 21, 2016 - 1:34 pm

    Tamlyn - Thank you! Such timely God-breathed wisdom. I can see from other comments that I’m not the only one who felt that this post just nailed it. So many of us caught up in that cycle of the false virtue of busyness, guilt about resting, and total exhaustion.
    I’m very much going to miss your writing, because God uses your honest faith in such a powerful way and has given you a real gift for writing that touches so many of our lives. But I’m glad you’re doing this brave thing. I pray that it is a rich time of replenishment for you.ReplyCancel

  • May 22, 2016 - 5:11 pm

    Suzanne (princapecos) - I’ll miss your posts and I’ll be watching my feed for your (hopefully) eventual return! While you’re gone, I need to dig back into your archives to see what I missed before I discovered your blog. Blessings, sister.ReplyCancel

  • June 5, 2016 - 2:09 am

    Su - Vaneetha, thank you so much.Just what I needed to hear. I long for a rest. Like you’ve said,I’m praying for time and a place for ‘rest’.God bless and refresh you as you rest Vaneetha – and thank you so much for your posts.ReplyCancel

  • June 9, 2016 - 7:45 am

    Juanita - Enjoy your comment regarding rest. God will provide all our needs.ReplyCancel

  • June 17, 2016 - 12:05 am

    Terry - Vaneetha;

    (My previous post didn’t send). Anyway, it looks like so far I’m the only male to respond (!), but I just want to say that I’ve been reading your blogs for a while, and have always gotten so much out of them. This one, though, felt like you were speaking directly to me. You described me to a T. Such a great reminder for me to slow down, take time to rest, and have a quiet time each day with God.ReplyCancel

  • June 18, 2016 - 9:38 pm

    Martha - Dancing in the rain clears my mind and soul. A soft warm rain. Look up.ReplyCancel

  • July 5, 2016 - 5:41 pm

    Michelle - I found your blog thanks to a post from DesiringGod! And it’s so funny that late last year I sensed that I was just reaching the end of myself, so to speak. And I actually started to pray to God about needing a break. I found myself repeating that a lot. That I just wanted a break. The terrible winter was wearing me out, in combination with a difficult commute and work was tough and personal life stress. Well…the second week of January, following a bad snow storm, as I walked to my bus. I slipped and fell and I broke my humerus bone. For the next couple of months I worked from home and I actually got the break I wanted. Although not in the most painless way! But your post reminds me of where I can get a lot of the times…that constant need to see my ever growing to do list get completed and repleted.ReplyCancel

  • September 9, 2016 - 8:54 am

    Rani clare - Vaneetha, I soooo BLESS GOD FOR YOU! All you learn from your pain and suffering and brokenness…feeds and points the way to the rest of us, and so encourages and blesses us. I love the results, but shy away from the trials, tribulations and pain that bears the lovely fruit you do. May GOD forgive and have mercy on me!!!! GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS DARLING, AND CONTINUE TO EXTEND HIS KINGDOM THROUGH YOU. with love, Rani xxxxxxxxReplyCancel

    • September 9, 2016 - 1:04 pm

      Vaneetha - We all shy away from trials, Rani. I certainly do! But God in His mercy gives us not what we want but what what will ultimately maximize our joy!ReplyCancel

  • April 23, 2017 - 3:28 pm

    Richard Brown - Hey and thank you,

    You nailed it. I have been meditating and contemplating the unforced rhythms of grace for a while and wanting to get to grips with it. I am so glad I found this post. The funny thing is I do rest, I am very good at it but I like to ask my wife to rest better. I let her read what you had written and tears flowed. Thank you.

    By the way, I love the rain – very short hair!

    RichReplyCancel

    • April 23, 2017 - 4:51 pm

      Vaneetha - So thankful that this was helpful, Richard. I honestly had to go back and reread that post and as I did I was convicted again about my need for rest. Less than a year after first writing this post, I’m still trying to learn the unforced rhythms of grace! I’m so grateful that the Lord is so gentle with us, and sends us reminders when we need them.ReplyCancel

  • June 14, 2017 - 4:14 pm

    Adebusola - Thank you so much for sharing, ma’am. I have been here awhile back to read on the “unforced rhythms of Grace”. I guess I had let the true meaning of it slip through my mind until this morning when I saw those words again jump at me. I had also read a scripture on being led by peace from a devotional this morning and it dawned on me that God was calling me to a life of rest & peace. Rest from trying to figure it all out or work it all out and stressing out mentally, emotionally and physically. Sometimes, it feels so difficult to not be in control of our very lives but that is what faith is and that is what God is calling us to. God is calling us all to a life of rest in His unforced rhythms of Grace. Jesus indeed exemplifies this quality of life. I do pray for Grace to let it all go and rest in His unforced rhythms of Grace.
    Thank you again for sharing, ma’am. Bless your heartReplyCancel

    • June 18, 2017 - 2:36 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad this was helpful to you. As I am in a season of being busy, your comment was a good reminder to me to rest.ReplyCancel

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