(INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND HALF OF THE BOOK)
The first half of this book is a description of the heart’s seasons and an exploration of how to steward them.
The next half is a collection of musings, eight in all, about spiritual rhythm. That’s followed by a lengthy final reflection on four practices — worship, Word, prayer, and friendship — that nourish us in season and out, world without end.
The eight musings are not random, but neither are they entirely joined. They form a tapestry more than a quilt, an interweaving of themes rather than a juxtaposing of them. This thread uniting this entire half of the book, as I said, is spiritual rhythm: learning the art of moving with the Spirit, step by step, winter, spring, summer, fall.
This book is, first, a modest attempt to help you walk in grace in every season. But it also contains a modest proposal: that we rethink some basic premises about spiritual formation. We tend to measure spiritual maturity by duration and strength of our attachments and commitments. in short, by how much we do. This yardstick has serviceable up to a point. But it’s seriously flawed. It’s simply not Biblical. The Biblical measure of maturity is fruit.
My modest proposal: seasons are a better way to understand our spiritual lives. And each season has its own rhythm .
What follows are eight reflections about that.
Balancing (Or Not)
Seasons are inherently unbalanced. Where is balance in winter’s bleakness? It’s a deep crevice of darkness; it’s a glut of cold. Where is the symmetry in spring’s flooding downpours and bursting newness, in its heady mix of sweet fragrance and rank pungency? Where is the simple elegance in summer’s wild profusion? Its blackberries alone are so abundant that even birds gorge themselves on them and the bears that turn their muzzles sticky in their blood eat their fill and still mountains of them go untouched. Where is the equilibrium in falls madcap of colors, the urgency of it’s harvests, its sudden frosts and relentless winds?
There is none. All bends one way or the other and only rarely, if ever, sits still. In the ebb and flow of seasons, there is little slack tide.
Our age has it’s own cherished myths, and one of the most hypnotic is the myth of balance. I hear it everywhere, from old and young, city dwellers and country folk, carpenters and lawyers, students and homemakers. Everyone seeks balance. Everyone longs for the magical combining of rest and play and work that, once found, will make life simple, elegant, easy: balanced. Where is the perfect middle, they ask, the right proportion of duty and freedom, church and job, neighbors and family, time for others and time for me?
There is none. It is no more to be found than unicorns or perfect churches.
There is only seasons, seasons for everything, and seasons are inherently unbalanced.
The watchword for seasons isn’t balanced. It’s rhythm. And rhythm requires a different approach. I seek balance when I stand up in a kayak. Staying in the boat depends on it. But I seek rhythm when I paddle the kayak. Getting anywhere depends on it. There’s balance needed, too, but a balance that flows out of the rhythm, and often enough rhythm forces me to extremes, a steep learning one way or the other, so as to keep balance.
We crave balance but need rhythm.
For everything there is a season. There is a time, Ecclesiastes 3 says, for weeping. When Carol died, Cheryl and I (but especially Cheryl) wept long deep and hard, and even most of our good days were interrupted, without warning, by flash floods. There was simply no balance to it. It was excessive and exhausting, oft times embarrassing. A month after her death, on a book tour, I spoke to a group of employees at a bookstore in Grand Rapids. In the middle of it, I came unstuck. I stood gasping and trembling, unable to speak, as twenty or so bewildered strangers with no context for my grief, no forewarning of it, looked on appalled, and then tried awkwardly to console me.
Or think of a lad in love. That’s one of the four wonders of the world that boggled and astonished Agur, the speaker of oracles:
These are three things that are to amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden.
— PROVERBS 30:18-19
A contention of Hebrew wisdom literature contends that the first three things in a list set up the fourth. Agur finds all four phenomena “too amazing” to understand, but especially the last one, the way of a man with a maiden. The first three wonders are a mere prelude to the daunting strangeness and haunting beauty of this final mystery. One thing alone exceeds the holy enigma of any eagle soaring or snake coiling or ship pitching: a man courting.
I remember my own days of wooing well, and often see others in the throes of it now. Nothing is done by halves. A man in love is a fool and a hero all in one, full of blather and valor. He’s a spinning top. He’s a show-off and an idealist, a warrior-martyr-dreamer. Truck drivers become poets. Cowards swell with courage. Bullies grow soft. And everything — vast mountains, towering forests, wild rivers, serene parkland — is only backdrop to stolen kisses.
There is no balance for a man in the full grip of infatuation. Soon enough, the same man will settle back into his old self — aloof or bragging, loud or timid, lazy or busy. He’ll put on weight. Stop shaving. Snore. Watch too much television. She won’t know where her courier went. She kissed a prince; he became a frog. But in that season of madness, when first he spied her and wooed her, few of earth’s many strange exotic things are stranger or more exotic than his way with a maiden. Not even cobras can compete.
There’s no balance here.
We crave balance but need rhythm.
Spiritually, there are times for soaring, times for running, times for walking and trying not to faint. There are seasons of heady giddy romance, when Jesus seems more swashbuckler than shepherd. There are seasons of hard slogging, when Jesus seems almost a taskmaster, calling us to keep going when all we want to do is quit, cloaking His compassion under a guise of discipline. There are times to just hoist the sails and ride the wind, come what may. And there are times when all you can do is wait out the doldrums and hope you don’t run out of fresh water before then.
All this needs rhythm. It needs leaning into, pacing yourself with, matching thrust with counter thrust.
An example would help. Carol’s death altered the season for both me and, to a lesser extent, our church. We found about our her illness in spring, literally and figuratively. The church was abuzz with new ideas, fresh energy. Among other plans, we were preparing to plant a church. We laid out our strategy just before Easter. By fall, we’d be ready: the launch of New Life North.
Then Carol’s crushing headaches and reckless clumsiness and mounting shrillness all got explained. Her head was crammed with sickness. And so the ordeal began.
At first, we held on to our original plan. But very soon it became obvious that none of us, me the least of all, had energy for this. Winter descended, cruel and abrupt, and all we could do was endure it. There would be no new church anytime soon. There were no daring ventures on the horizon. The next season was about surviving not creating.
And it called for a different rhythm.
I had to change pace. I started moving more slowly and cautiously. I tended my own soul with a care that in another season would have been self-indulgent. Belly-button gazing. Cheryl and I spent an inordinate amount of time discussing in minute detail Carol’s day, and our own. We gave ourselves more space. We gave ourselves more grace. We went for marriage counseling — a first in over twenty years of married life. We sought more time with friends, and spent time both crying and laughing. We gathered our breath. We took a few holidays (vacations) where all we did was read and sleep and stare at the rain. We ate fatty food once or twice a week without worrying about it.
It would have been harebrained to try during that wintertime of my heart to keep the rhythm I had before it. As I shared at the beginning of this book. I had already attempted that a few times in my life when the season changed abruptly, and paid dearly for it. It would, likewise, be harebrained in my heart’s current springtime to keep the rhythm I developed during Carol’s illness. The rhythm was life-giving, or at least life-preserving, in winter; it would be death-dealing or at least life-sucking, in spring.
Have you got rhythm?
~ Darren’s Comments ~
Have you got rhythm? Have you got balance to keep your rhythm from going awry? Spiritually — that is what we are talking about, isn’t it? Amid my tasting springtimes, beautiful summers, invigorating falls where the colors are just exploding around you on the trees, and the deepest and darkest of winters sets upon you with hellacious fury, you need God’s balance to get you through.
Overall, this book has been so helpful to me — going through my deepest darkest spiritual winter (car crash that left me with a traumatic brain injury- Running With Christ . . .), my freshest spring (Highways and Homecomings), my Summer Nostalgia (Look Both Ways Before You Cross?), and exploding colors of fall ( The Harvest Of Souls). Further, I agree with all of his premesis except this one.
In your spiritual life, there are sure to be seasons where you go through up and downs, just as my life has been a roller coaster ride. Right now, I am coming out of the most emotional, physical, mental and spiritual turn that one could only hope that it doesn’t happen to someone else lest you forget there is other people that are on the ride to. But that is the way of life down here. However, while you are going through the deepest darkest shame of winter you try to seek balance of your spiritual life. Let me make this clearer for you: within each spiritual rhythm you try to seek balance within the temple of the Holy Spirit which is you if you have accepted what Christ has done for you. Then, and only then, do you start your life being under the control of the Holy Spirit voluntarily.
Yet, that is the way of life down here. Jesus alluded to it in His prayer to His Dad in John 17:
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.””
(John 17:1-26 ESV)
Furthermore, the Apostle Paul tells us (True Life Christians) to examine ourselves to see if we are still in the faith:
“This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.”
2 Corinthians 13:1-10 ESV
You are supposed to seek balance in God to weather whatever kind of spiritual rhythm you find yourself in; well, that has been my experience.
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~