Imagine what our lives would look like if they really flowed to the rhythm God intends for us. Imagine what a sustainable pace would look like that allows time for work and rest, solitude and community, fasting feasting and fun. These are some of the thoughts that revolve in my mind as I re-evaluate my life in the midst of this COVID reality, and seek to live into a sustainable rhythm. They seem to be foremost in the minds of many others too. COVID has forced all of us to rethink our priorities. Many of us are reorienting around rhythms of Sabbath rather than church, relationships rather than tasks, balance rather than work. Nature and the refreshment creation provides has gained priority and the allure of consumption has dwindled.
Sustainability is not about cutting back on consumption and work, though that can be an outcome. Sustainability is primarily about living into life as God intends it to be.
This is one of my ruling passions. I first grappled with it when I contracted chronic fatigue syndrome 30 years ago. I was sure that stress, overwork and burnout were the chief causes, and in my recovery began to explore a more sustainable rhythm of life. My first book on this theme – Godspace, which gave birth to this blog – explored the rhythms of Jesus’ life and the balance he seemed to find between work and rest, community and solitude, feasting and fasting. Unfortunately, knowing this was the kind of rhythm Jesus lived by wasn’t enough. It was too intangible and it was still easy for me in our work-oriented society to rationalize away the patterns that I felt God was leading me towards. Not surprisingly more overwork, stress and burnout followed.
Over the last few years two key questions helped me to move towards a more sustainable way of life: What kind of God do I believe in? What kind of rhythms does creation model for me? Most importantly, my studies in shalom and the rule of life it established for me, gave me the confidence to move forward without guilt or stress.
What Kind of God Do I Believe in?
Can you imagine a God who dances with shouts of joy, laughs, plays, enjoys life and invites us to join the fun? I couldn’t until recently. I grew up with a very serious, workaholic God who chastised me for not keeping busy 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Even though I knew this was not what God intended for me, I felt guilty when I slowed down, took a break or just went out and had some fun.
Unless you become like children you cannot enter the kingdom of God. These words riveted my attention a few years ago and I asked myself What are the childlike characteristics that make me fit for the kingdom? This question began a journey of discovery in which I started to explore the childlike characteristics that God sees as prerequisites to kingdom living. I posted on Facebook asking friends what qualities they believed are essential and slowly formulated a list. Playfulness, awe and wonder, imagination, creativity, curiosity, love of nature, compassion, gratitude, and unconditional trust all emerged as essential qualities of childlikeness. Yet we live in a world of play deprivation, nature deficit disorder, awe and wonder depletion and compassion fatigue. As a result I think we suffer from God deprivation too.
As I have said numerous times, I am increasingly convinced that rediscovering our inner child is essential for our spiritual health. Awe and wonder, imagination and curiosity connect us to the God who is present in every moment and everything in a way that nothing else can. They enrich our contemplative core and expand our horizons to explore new aspects of our world and of our God.
Believing in a God who loves to get his hands dirty planting gardens, who makes mud pies to put on the eyes of the blind, and who does happy dances and sings with joy over all of humanity and in fact all of creation has revolutionized my faith. This is the theme of my book The Gift of Wonder, as many of you will recognize, but there are a couple of steps you can take now to follow this path.
- Read some children’s books – maybe get back to the favorites from your childhood, or ask your kids, grandkids or friend’s kids which ones they enjoy most. Read them together, or if you don’t have kids and grandkids volunteer at the local library or with friends to read stories.
- Spend time with kids – we all need kids in our lives. They ask us difficult questions and help us let go of our pretentious and often unrealistic expectations of ourselves and of others.
- Reconnect to your senses – kids view the world through all their senses, but we adults often limit ourselves to sight and sound and even these senses have very confining borders. Rediscovering the joy of smells, the wonder of textures, the delight of sunlight through trees opens us to a God of delight and rejoicing, a God who invites us to relax, to just sit in contentment and wonder or allow ourselves to be distracted by the beauty of a butterfly.
What Can Gardening Teach Us About God’s Rhythm?
As I often say, I read about the story of God in the Bible but in the garden I experience it. That is definitely true for the rhythms of God too. Working in the garden has given me permission to relax into a different pace of life.
We think of spring as the season of planting, but in God’s world seed is scattered in the autumn as seed heads mature and burst. Then the seed rests. Covered by a wintery coat it waits until the warmth of spring brings it to life.
The garden year has two seasons of rest and two of frantic activity. Winter is a time of preparation, when roots go down deep and pruning is done. Then comes spring, probably the busiest time in the garden. We plant, weed, fertilize, and mulch. We spend as much time as possible getting our garden ready for the coming season of growth, blossom and fruit. Then comes summer, vigorous growth, a riot of colorful flowers and rich fruit develop. Surprisingly this too is a season of rest – this time a rest of enjoyment and satisfaction. We watch the maturing of what we have planted, taking credit for it but really having little to do to bring it into being. I love to go out in the morning to see how the beans and zucchini have grown and tomatoes ripened. I do a little weeding and maybe some watering but this is a time to enjoy the beauty, the fragrance and the delight of a hopefully well-planned garden. Autumn is the next busy season when the full harvest overwhelms us with its abundance. We work furiously to eat, preserve and store all that appears. We recruit friends and share harvest celebrations and then we collapse exhausted and grateful for the resting of winter months.
Recognizing that these patterns woven through all creation are God-designed and God-intended has been liberating for me. I find that my body too responds to these rhythms and if I ignore it I do fall into the trap of unsustainability again.
How Sustainably is Your Rhythm?
I meet so many overworked, burnt out disillusioned Christians who have lost touch with the God of balance and sustainability. As a result they lose touch with the beauty of the message of the gospel and its implications for a life of joy and balance. Are you one of them? Set aside time today to prayerfully reflect on your priorities and the rhythms that govern your life. Ask yourself:
Is this the rhythm God intends for me?
How could I develop a more sustainable way of life?
What would my life look like if I gave myself totally to God?
The God of rhythm and balance fill you
with the stability of rest and work and enjoyment today.
The God of fun and festivity surround you
with laughter and play and delight.
The God of life and love enrich you
with a future that brings satisfaction and joy and sustainability.
May you dance with the angels,
And shout with the children,
May you sing with all creation
Of the wonder of God’s presence.
(c) Christine Sine 2022
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“You can infuse your life with joy, even right in the middle of winter when you need it most…”
Join Christine Aroney-Sine TONIGHT for a series of five inspiring conversations, based on her book, The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God.*
- January 19 – The Awe of Wonder (Introduction)
- January 26 – Wonder & Trauma
- February 2 – Play!
- February 9 – Reminiscing
- February 16 – The Joy of Gratitude
* We will mail you the book with your $10 registration. If you already have the book, the series is free.