A couple weeks ago, I reflected to a friend, “I am so sick of being sick!” Though much, much better than a year ago, my body is still on the mend. I get tired more quickly than I want and I still sometimes react to the foods I’ve eaten. The healthy rhythms of my life (e.g., 8 hours of sleep, daily exercise, weekly Sabbath, daily prayer, cooking from scratch) demand diligence. I fudge on one of these, and I pay for it in fatigue or sickness.
And so, what began as life-giving rhythms have felt like drudgery these past weeks – things I must do rather than things I am excited to do. Sleep, exercise, Sabbath, prayer and menu planning all feel like restrictions on my freedom. I know deep down that these rhythms, in helping my body recover, are providing me more freedom. But, it doesn’t feel that way right now.
I expect that this perceived drudgery rings true in our spiritual lives. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates Jesus’ invitation to rest in Matthew 11:28-30 as this:
…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.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. What are those unforced rhythms of grace? Here is what I notice as I reflect on how Jesus spent his time and led his disciples: He spent a lot of time with people, but those moments were followed by solitary time in prayer (a rhythm of work and rest, relationship building and solitude). He invited Martha to sit at his feet (a rhythm of listening to Jesus). He celebrated Holy days like Passover (a rhythm of worship).
Despite the fact that Jesus says learning these rhythms of grace will lead to freedom, I know there are moments when regular, routine tasks don’t feel free, light or unforced. I have moments when I savor the chance to swim, but I experience other moments when it takes all my willpower to get in the pool. There are Sundays when I can’t wait to worship and other Sundays when I would much rather stay in bed. Perhaps it’s simply part of being human to experience drudgery – even in the most exciting, energizing or healthy experiences – when we do those things on a regular basis.
A friend prayed for me this week that God would remind me of the joy and hope I have experienced in the past months as I have practiced these daily and weekly rhythms. I have decided not to harshly judge my experience of drudgery, but to ask for the daily grace to move through it and beyond it, not to give up on the rhythms just because they feel restricting right now.
And so far, this little prayer has been enough to keep me going.
Rachel Young is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.