Part Four: Daily Rest Rhythms

Here we are, finally at the tail end of this series. I’m glad you’re still with me, because in my opinion this now becomes the most important part. 

When I originally started putting together this series on Sabbath, I didn’t have in mind to add a fourth part. But the further I worked on it, the more I realized that it wasn’t quite complete without it. 

I occasionally listen to Jeff & Alyssa Bethke’s podcast, Real Life, where a couple months ago Jeff had an episode where he read a chapter from his new book- To Hell with the Hustle. It intrigued me. Because the theme seemed to go hand in hand so well with this personal study on Sabbath, I decided to order his book. As I read it I realized that this was the missing piece I hadn’t yet identified: Reclaiming a daily life of restedness. It’s the daily life integration that we still struggle with, even while practicing a day of sabbath. So this last piece is now my attempt to bring it all together and explore how we can integrate this idea of restedness as a daily rhythm. I’ll be referencing some of the gems from Bethke’s book, amidst my own thoughts and further expanding of his ideas. So let’s dive in!

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Practicing sabbath is good, but if we just live every other day in a frenzy of insane busyness and hustle, then in some ways we’re undoing the work of sabbath rest each week in between. Sabbath should be re-forming something about how we function and live on a daily basis, not just one day a week. 

Bethke begins his book by talking about the difference between goals and formations

Formations = The process of forming or becoming
Goals = the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result

He explains something called a stop-loss order. This is a financial investing principle that essentially means that if your stock dips below a certain value, it will automatically be sold back into the system. You can set a stop-loss order to help prevent further loss than you’re willing to take. He and his wife Alyssa reached a point in their lives where they realized that they’d reached their stop-loss order for goals. He goes on to say, “The results we were getting from the goals we were setting had dipped far below what we wanted to get back from them. So we sold it back into the system. Moved on. We haven’t set goals since. And here’s why: for our family, goals haven’t really helped us become who we want to be. So we swapped them with one word: formations…” 

I’m sure most of us can relate to the struggle of not meeting goals…Think specifically of new year’s resolutions. Did you know that roughly 80% of new year’s resolutions (aka goals) don’t make it past mid-February?? That’s only six weeks. SIX weeks of the year. Why is it that goals so often fail? Bethke makes an interesting comparison between goals and formations that sheds some more light on this:

One is about the end. The other is about the present.
One is about doing. The other is about being.
One is about results. The other is about process.
One is usually about activity. The other is about identity.
Goals are about what practices I’m doing. Formations are who I am becoming through the practices I’m doing.

I underlined this with a big black pen in my book. This tiny, yet significant change in wording ends up yielding totally different results. 

I’m going to back up and apply this spiritually for a minute, to help us understand. 

When a person surrenders their life to Christ, we often hear “christianeze” language about how they now have the “goal of getting to heaven”. I think there’s a few things wrong with this mentality, but here’s one to start: the life of a Christian is NOT primarily about an end goal. Yes, you read that correctly. As soon as you start believing that your “goal” as a Christian is to do certain things so you get to heaven, you’ve already lost. As soon as we become disciples of Christ, we are already a part of the Kingdom here and now. Not yet in its fullness, but yet in part. Author N.T Wright has a whole lot more to say on this topic, so if it interests you I recommend his book, The Day the Revolution Began. But what I’m trying to say here is that we can’t approach our spiritual walk as one giant end goal and I do steps A, B, and C to get there. First, “get saved”. Then, cut these things out of my life. Then, do these good things that the Bible talks about and I’ll reach the end goal that I’m waiting for. Cringe. No, the entire life of a Christ-follower is about entering into His Kingdom already now and then being continuously formed day by day, until we’ve drawn our last breath. We are being sanctified and formed by the Holy Spirit daily. Do we all ultimately long for perfect renewed creation and union with Jesus? Absolutely. But if I view “heaven” as my end goal and everything I do as a “means to an end”, I’ve lost the real purpose and miss out on the heart of God for me. Remember that goals are about doing and achieving, while formations are about being and becoming. 

God designed us primarily for becoming, not achieving. It’s not primarily about if you do and don’t do the right things on a checklist, but rather about the way you daily reckon and prove faithful in who you are as Christ’s disciple. 

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Bethke nails it on the head with this statement:

“I think in Christian circles we tend to focus too much on assessing every decision we make through a lens of morality- is it right or is it wrong? There is merit to this, but I think it’s too simple. It’s elementary. And it doesn’t take us where we need to go ultimately. It’s why a Christian might not be doing anything morally “wrong”, yet is addicted to being busy, feeling frantic, and overall staying anxious in their work and relationships, which clearly doesn’t line up with the way of Jesus. To follow Jesus we need to not just follow his teaching, but also follow his way. His process. His cadence. His demeanor. His spirit. His very essence.
Who am I becoming through the practices I’m doing?
That’s the better and truer question.”

So here’s the bottom line: doing isn’t wrong, but it’s our mentality around doing that can be prone to error. 

In the last post we talked about practical ways of keeping an intentional day of sabbath each week. So you might be thinking, wasn’t that all wrong given what you’re saying now? If you choose to see sabbath or resting as a goal to be attained, then it probably won’t work out very well for you. But let’s reshape how you think about it. Let’s choose to instead see it as rhythms that form you into who you want to be

I want to be a person who loves my family and my communities really well. I want to be a person who can be present and listen well in conversations. Patient. Radiating the joy and peace of Christ. Able to take each day as it comes instead of making to do lists as if they were something to be conquered. I want to be a person who shows hospitality and has an open door and heart to others. I want to be a person who is able to see and be available to serve needs around me because I’m not too busy or tired to stop. 

Now, what practices will help form me into that person that I want to be? 

I can tell you that sabbathing and resting well is absolutely near the top of my list. 

The reality is that we’re all being formed by something- but if we don’t choose what that is, the world will choose for us. Ultimately Jesus and His Spirit need to be forming us daily. But what if our daily practices and habits aren’t anchored in Christ or drawing us closer to him? Then who do we become?

What if we looked at our habits to define what we love and want to become, rather than stating what we think we desire and want to become?

That’s a scary question to consider. 

Correct thinking or beliefs does not equate with correct living or being. 

Bethke writes, “We are focused on trying to be better than ever. We have more goal-setting tools and more tips and tricks to help us become faster, better, stronger. But at what point do we pause and ask the obvious question: With all this authority and knowledge and enhancement to our personal lives, why aren’t we immensely better for it? Why are we maybe even worse because of it?” 

We are completely overloaded with information and stimulation in today’s culture. As Bethke puts it, we are informationally obese. We scroll through social media feeds, read articles, books, listen to podcasts and try to do all the life hacks for a better and more efficient self… but then we wonder, why isn’t anything changing? Why do I achieve dreams and goals but still feel as unfilled and anxious as ever? 

He expands on this idea by sharing a couple crazy statistics.

On average, two hundred years ago, people were lucky to read fifty books in their entire lifetime. Today, an average millennial might go through fifty episodes/podcasts/books/movies in less than a month.

Every two days we develop as much information as we did between the dawn of civilization and 2003. By 2020, 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on earth.
The actual amount of data we consume in a day would have been one person’s entire lifetime’s worth in 1574. 

So what are the effects of this information overload we’re exposed to? A few things:

  1. We’ve begun attempting to exchange wisdom for shortcuts. 
  2. We face a huge gap between who we are and who we want to be simply because we can actually see that gap better than ever before. By just scrolling through social media alone we see a different, ideal self we wish we were. 
  3. We’ve become unsatisfied and restless with our lives, always wanting to see, be, experience, and have more. 
  4. We’ve lost a long, steady focus and deep flow for work because we are constantly distracted by the next thing…not the least of which is often our phones. 
  5. We’ve become a society more interested with goal achievement than with formation. 

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Have you heard the word telos before? It’s a Greek term meaning “ultimate end or aim”. It’s your vision of “the good life”. Bethke writes, “our telos is that picture we all hold in our minds of that’s where I want to go, that’s who I want to be, that’s how I want it to look when I get there. And whether we realize it or not, our telos is our most primal defining feature. We will bend and break an entire life around what we believe our telos to be.”

This is where we intersect the ideas of formation and information… “We lean into information because we believe it’s going to give us a certain future (our telos).” But how’s that going for us..? We cannot research or think ourselves to be a better version of ourselves. We can’t checklist and do our way to being better Christians. 

We do not become just what we think. We become what we desire.
We are not shaped by facts. We are shaped by what we love. 

I know this is getting pretty deep and personal, but this is an important place to pause and let that sink in for a minute. What do you desire? What do you love? The answers to those questions are going to form you into the person you will be. 

Here are some examples of things that most of us actually love and desire… 

Our phones. Recognition. Having fun. Food. TV shows. Music. Coffee. Being seen and heard. Travel. Checking things off our bucket list. Being comfortable. Being liked. Fun hobbies…

Are any of these things wrong? Not necessarily. But if this is what your life primarily says you love and desire, you will find yourself on an endless pursuit of something that can never be grasped. Constantly on the wrong side of the rest that Jesus offers.

Here’s the bottom line. Formations are a vital part of taking one day of sabbath to the next level… Creating daily rhythms that allow you to live and work from a place of restedness and peace rather than restlessness, unsatisfied desire, and chaos. 

Here’s another important point that sets formations apart from goals. When you set goals, your focus can become derailed when you fail. For example, let’s say you set a goal that you’re going to run a marathon this summer and you need to train by running an hour every day to improve your speed and distance. You will be highly aware of your failure rate. If you end up only running three out of seven days most weeks, or only have time for a 20 minute run some days, that will be failure according to your set goal. You’ll also be more likely to feel shame as a result of failure- the shame that makes you feel that YOU are a failure- and have an increased likelihood of giving up because you’re just not reaching your targets. 

But what if you change your perspective? 

I am a person who stays physically active on a daily basis to remain mentally and emotionally sharp for myself and my family. That could look like a 15 minute walk, an hour long run, a bike ride with your family, walking the track at the gym with your baby in the stroller, wrestling with your kids during play time… suddenly this is not a goal to achieve, but a formation that is helping make you into the person you want to be. One micro repeated practice at a time. You realize that any form of staying active each day is not about success or failure. Even those days where it just doesn’t happen, you don’t sweat it because each of those other 300 days of the year your rhythm of staying physically active is contributing to the bigger picture. Suddenly one day doesn’t make or break it because you know that in the bigger picture you are someone who stays physically active, and as a result is more physically, mentally, and emotionally strong for yourself and your family. 

Did you notice the difference there? It’s significant. 

Bethke writes, “the hard truth is, finish lines and end-result motivators do not change us. They usually feel too daunting or disconnected from our current, everyday lives. And most people don’t thrive under the pressure that we heap on ourselves to hit an exact bull’s-eye, not to mention that we feel ashamed if we miss it…The idea that somehow the achievement of a goal will make us a certain type of person and will immediately rid us of our current unhappiness or discontentment just isn’t true.”

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Earlier I referenced the statement that goals are about doing and activity, while formations about being and identity. 

Scripture is deeply focused on identity. Jesus is deeply interested in who we were created to be and who we are becoming. 

Let’s bring this back to our context here. 

I want to be a person who loves my family and my communities really well. I want to be a person who can be present and listen well in conversations. Patient. Radiating the joy and peace of Christ. Able to take each day as it comes instead of making to do lists as if they were something to be conquered. I want to be a person who shows hospitality and has an open door and heart to others. I want to be a person who is able to see and be available to serve needs around me because I’m not too busy or tired to stop. 

Fill this in for yourself. It might look a bit different for you, but as disciples of Christ we have been commissioned and called to love God, love others, and make disciples. Which formations are going to help us become that person? There’s a few that come to mind. And wouldn’t you know it? They all come back to this idea of rest. Because think about yourself and your humanness at the most basic level. When you’re tired, stressed and unrested, how much more likely are you to have poor reactions, lack love and patience, and forfeit opportunities to show grace? When you’re WELL rested and re-centered on Christ, how much more likely are you to react well, handle stress with greater capacity, show love, grace and patience, and see opportunities God is putting before you to love others?

I fear that many of us as North American Christians have become so distracted and derailed from this purpose. And it’s time to reclaim our lives as God intended them to be, rather than letting the culture continue to penetrate its disease of restlessness and hustle into us. 

I wholeheartedly agree with Bethke when he says that becoming like Jesus is the one and only “goal” that their family has. Not to be cliche, but rather to point all of their daily formations towards the true north: intimacy with Jesus.

Bethke brings up a sobering thought when he says, “The winners and losers always have the same goals. But they don’t always have the same systems.” He alludes to the example of NBA basketball players. Does every player and every team have the same goal? You bet they do. But not every team wins. It will depend on how they play the game. The same goes for our lives spiritually.

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So how can I arrange my life in such a way that rhythms of restfulness become formative for me on a daily basis?
What might some of these formations look like?
I want you to determine that for yourself between you and God. But I also can share a few ideas that Bethke outlines in his book and that I’ve also found personally valuable. 

Screens 

I don’t want this to put you on the defensive, so I’ll start by acknowledging the good and the blessings that can come from technological advances. We have opportunities to connect with others at a distance, stay informed about current events, and get needed information within seconds with a quick search. We can also deepen our study with fantastic tools, get stuff written down more quickly than handwriting, and access books or podcasts while on the go. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that screens have also become a hindrance in many ways. And without boundaries in place, they can quickly overtake our lives. Bethke shares a few ways that they can affect our ability to live out of rest as God intended us to.

They become empathy killers, desensitizing us to responding to hurts and needs around us. They distract us. They take or gaze off of what’s before us and put it on something much more fleeting and meaningless. They can contribute to huge time wastage when we add up those short minutes that turn into hours, days, and literally years of our lives. They can be barriers to true and meaningful connection. They are gratitude killers, causing us to become dissatisfied with what we have and always desiring more. 

What would it look like to not only attempt a weekly 24 hour “screen fast”, but to also place some daily boundaries around them? To become a person who is not always attached at the hand to your phone? To become a person who is not apologetic about responding to messages or emails an hour or a day or a week later because it’s not urgent? To become a person who doesn’t need to check social media every day out of habit? A person who is not addicted and dependent on screens for enjoyment, relaxation, and distraction?

Notice the formation language here. It’s not necessarily about setting goals and specific daily limits, but becoming a certain kind of person. What are you going to choose to do with your various screens, that will form you into a specific direction? You are being formed by your screens either way, but you can choose in which way.

Silence & Solitude 

Can I be bold in saying that a lot of us fear silence and solitude? We avoid silence without even realizing we’re doing it. I’ve become acutely aware of this in the last couple of years. It’s rare that I come across someone who drives without music playing, takes transit or walks without headphones in, or is able to have an entire day, or even evening, of restful silence and prayerful reflection. Why is that?
I think that it’s when we’re silent that we’re able to finally hear our own thoughts, see the hidden desires, fears and anxieties in our hearts. Maybe we don’t want to face our exposed reality. Noise distracts and numbs us.

Did you know that our inability to sit in silence and our constant immersing in noise is actually changing our pace of life without us even realizing it? Bethke shares one example in his book. Some restaurants and establishments use noise to their advantage… research shows that people drink more when music is loud (in other words, spend more money), chew faster (finish meals and leave faster) when louder atmosphere is present, causing quicker table turnover and more profit. The noise sets our pace whether we realize it or not. 

Bethke also shares about an author, named George Prochnik, who visited the Trappist New Melleray Abbey in Iowa, noted to be literally one of the quietest places on earth. As he arrived, the monk who greeted him warned him that the silence was so unbearable and intense that many visitors found themselves physically unable to remain in the chapel for more than five minutes. Can you imagine that?

When we practice being silent and alone before God, we’re able to really listen. We’re able to see what’s going on in our own hearts and minds. We’re able to experience peace and calm and rest as Jesus offers. We practice just being. Abiding. Being reminded of our identity in Christ and washed over in His miraculous love for us. Remembering that He loves us for who we are and not what we do. Affirmed in who we are as a child of the King.

What would it look like for you to be a person who is able to sit in silence and not be uncomfortable by it? To be a person who even seeks it out intentionally? What would it look like for you to be a person who fights for getting time away each day to be quiet before God? Not just reading your Bible or writing out a list of prayer requests, but actually being silent and still?

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Saying No

What are your yes’ saying no to, and what are your no’s saying yes to?

In the past year especially I’ve often found myself coming back to this question. It’s not about self interest and looking out for what I want, but rather protecting what is most important.

Remember in the first post where I talked about the way God created relationships? I want to honour my commitment to Him first, to my husband second, to my family third, and everything else after that. God created time and rest as sacred and set apart. It’s where I meet with Him, become refreshed, and am equipped for doing. But if I am constantly saying yes to everything that crosses my path, even GOOD things, I will be inevitably saying no to other things. If I can’t learn to say no to even good things, I will not be able to be faithful to the first things first.

I’ve also become acutely aware of the fact that when I am always scheduled, busy, and running from one thing to the next, I truly don’t have the time or mental capacity to then honour the other things well either. Can I connect with my neighbours, encourage a friend in need, bless a stranger or love my Church family well if I don’t have the time and energy?

You will constantly find yourself saying, when I have time, if you don’t make the time intentionally. What would it look like for you to be a person who is available to respond to the Holy Spirit’s prompting? To be a person who is able to discern when to say yes and when to say no, rather than assuming that all good things should be a yes? What would it look like for you to be a person who loves others better in all ways because your first yes is Christ? 

Sabbath

Now we’ve come full circle back to sabbath. An opportunity to look to what Christ accomplished with His death and resurrection when He brought true rest to a perfect fulfilment. Remembering that we have now been freed from our need to work for our rest. Sabbath, in essence, is a release. Releasing us from something and for something. The rest that Christ fulfilled in His death and resurrection releases us from striving and achieving and working as a means of our identity. It releases us from the patterns of defeat and sin that lead to death. We are released for abundant life in Christ, finding our beingness in Him and producing only that which He produces in and through us. We practice a day that is set apart for remembering and observing this rest, but then also let that day powerfully flow into the rest of our week, shaping and informing our daily rhythms. 

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As I wrap this up, I want to draw our attention to one more piece I haven’t touched on yet. I’ve often heard the word legalism thrown around incorrectly in Christian circles, sabbath being one example of this. But what is legalism? Is it “legalistic” to practice a sabbath day or to incorporate habits, rituals and rhythms into your daily life? 

Where we often go wrong is in mistaking liturgy for legalism. Liturgy is ritual with purpose. Ritual is a habit of meaning. A habit is a repeated action that goes deeper into your desires and drives and loves. 

In other words, what I love and desire will cause me to repeatedly do things or act in certain ways that are meaningful and purposeful. 

On the other hand, legalism is putting your personal works and efforts above grace. It’s adhering to law out of obligation rather than obedient desire. 

Bethke writes about how he makes coffee every morning for himself and his wife out of habit, and somewhat ritual as well. He explains, “it’s still an act of love. And continually doing it, even once it got mundane, is maybe even more an act of love. I think following Jesus with rhythm is the same. Even when it becomes dry for a season, it’s not necessarily legalistic, but Jesus folks often expect following Jesus to always be free and fun and spontaneous and never ritualistic or liturgical. And if it is, we cry legalism…For too long we’ve confused legalism with something that takes effort or discipline. Just because we do something over and over doesn’t mean it’s legalistic.” 

He hit the nail on the head. Legalism is NOT defined by behavior, but by the heart behind the behavior or action. Because guess what? The same action or behavior can be done in both holy and unholy ways. The idea isn’t to never do things that are repetitious or habitual, but to make sure your heart is right if you do. 

My friend, don’t let the idea of repeatedly doing something turn you off. Don’t let the word liturgy scare you into thinking legalism. Don’t let your preconceived notions about sabbath inform your decision about whether or not to start practicing it intentionally. 

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Sabbath is much more than a day, but not less than a day. It can start with a day. A day of intentional stopping, delighting, and worshipping. From there, it can start informing your daily life rhythms. Rhythms of restfulness. Formations- micro, repeated practices- that will transform you into the person you want to be and the person Christ has called you to be. 

I’ll end with one last quote from Jefferson Bethke’s book.

“I want to be formed and shaped and molded into his image. To be more like him. To look like him. To walk at his pace. To respond to the world with his gentleness and grace. To reign and rule, build, create, and cultivate under his loving and sacrificial authority. But to do that, I have to look in his face. Meet with him. Stay at his feet. Spend time with him. To live in repeatable practices and formations that consistently put myself before him. I have to shape my space and my habits away from false self and push myself into becoming a true full image bearer of him.
We are not who we are because we thought our way there. We are who we are because we loved something and chased it, often unwittingly, and we continued to do it, over and over like a liturgy. Love-shaping practices.” 

 

 

Blessings, friends. Let’s be a Sabbath people who love God, each other and our communities better because of it.

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