Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 1, 2015

Unforced Rhythms

Sometimes I do my best writing and thinking while walking or doing some manual labor. So when our custodian Dennis was out of town a couple of weeks ago I thought I’d help out by mowing the church lawn. We have a ride-on mower to accomplish this large task but it is currently in the shop, so I used the back up push mower.

0710141914I was told it would take about 2 hours to accomplish the task, but I was determined to beat that time. I started at a fast pace, pushing the mower around the lawn as quickly as I could.   A few minutes in, however, I realized I was working twice as hard as I needed to. The front wheels have an automatic drive function. If you follow the pace that the wheels set the mower basically pulls itself. When you force it to go any faster you end up straining your arms and back. Once I accepted the slower pace the task became enjoyable and manageable.

Perhaps this might serve as an effective metaphor for the way we go about life.  In his book, No Impact Man, Colin Beaven documents his experience of trying to live for a year without making any impact on the environment. This experiment forced him to adopt a slower pace of life. He grew his own food, walked instead of drove, and cooked meals from scratch. As he took on this slower pace he confronted his impatience.   At one point in the book he writes, “at what age did I start to think that where I was going was more important than where I was already? When was it that I began to believe that the most important thing about what I was doing was getting it over with?”

I suspect that our culture shapes us to adopt a hectic and forced rhythm of life. Smart phones kill our attention spans and give us instant gratification, fast food gives us access to a hot meal in 30 seconds, modern transportation gets us to where we need to be quickly and efficiently.

On top of these technological developments we have a work culture that emphasizes productivity and efficiency. The most recent Time magazine featured an article titled, “Save The American Vacation.” It talks about how an increasing majority of Americans do not take their allotted vacation time because they think that they have too much work to do, or because they are fearful that they won’t look productive enough. It appears that we are enslaved by the metrics of productivity that are imposed upon us our culture or by our own ego.

The irony in all this is that these hectic rhythms of life are often counterproductive. Paul Tournier uses a helpful metaphor to talk about the importance of having space for rest and reflection. He reminds us that it is impossible to untie a knot in a rope if the rope is being pulled tight on either end. We need some slack to work out the problem. In a similar way, when our life is strained we do not have the space to creatively work through the challenges and problems we are up against.

Jesus speaks to this situation in Matthew 11:28-30.   Eugene Peterson paraphrases the text saying:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? 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.”

In the original text Jesus is drawing on an agricultural metaphor. He speaks of taking on a yoke that is light and easy. A yoke is a tool that enables animals to pull a plow, or people to carry a heavy load. What is interesting to note is that a yoke is an instrument of work. This passage is not about abandoning our tasks; rather, it is about approaching our work in an unforced manner.

Jesus’ “yoke” is understood in contrast to the “yoke” of the Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens that are hard to bear.” (Matthew 24:4). The “yoke” of Jesus is easy and light because it is based on grace. When we realize that God loves us we are set free from the heavy burden of trying to prove ourselves. We are set free from the lie that it is up to us to do the work of God for him.

Jesus says, “come to me all you who are weary and burdened.” This is the starting point in our ability to adopt an unforced rhythm of life. Contemplation precedes action in the spiritual life. The challenge is whether we can slow down enough to listen. If we can’t, we will continue to allow our culture and our ego to set the pace of life.


  1. Being old has forced me to slow down; some days I resist. Most days I am thankful a slower lifestyle has been forced on me. From this vantage point I find all you have said is very true. Altho’ I have always cooked from scratch, because I enjoy it, it’s more nutritious and healthy, and costs a lot less, I’ve driven too fast and not taken the time to enjoy people so I could get things accomplished more quickly. I really like the Petersen translation. Thanks, Phil! And, thanks for mowing the church lawn! Glad you enjoyed it.

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