Unforced Rhythms of Grace

My sister Judi in 2001

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” – Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 11:29 (The Message)

I’d been teaching full time and writing part time for a local newspaper for years. With the youngest in college and the older two on their own, now was the time to pursue my dreams.

While teaching was my passion, I wasn’t finding fulfillment in covering school board and county commissioners meetings and election results. And while I loved the camaraderie of the newsroom staff, getting up early Saturday mornings to drive 45 minutes in all kinds of weather to type obituaries wasn’t getting me any closer to my writing goals.

Of course I ignored the signs of dissatisfaction and pushed on. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Then a post-operative blood clot took the life of my only sister just when we were getting close again. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. She was only 55.

I shivered on the love seat for days, in shock.

These things change you. Change the way you think about things. Change the way you live.

Change—it’s foisted on all of us. Whether we welcome it or not.

The key to surviving it is to look to God, knowing He has a plan and purpose for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139:16), knowing He takes the rough draft of the chapters of our lives and revises them so they shine (Romans 8:28) and lead to the ending He has planned. And knowing that if we follow our Shepherd, we will arrive at that ending without burning ourselves out.

But I hadn’t been stopping long enough to listen to God.

My sister’s death was a wakeup call—to pause in my headlong rush to fulfill my dreams and be all things to all people, and determine where I was truly headed.

Davis Bunn, in his 40-day devotional The Turning, writes, “When we read, we give no notice to the spaces between the words. And yet those pauses are vital. Without them, there is nothing but a senseless jumble. With them, thoughts are unique, words are clear, ideas fashioned, lives transformed. So it is with the brief pauses we make to stop and listen. Our thoughts and actions take on new clarity.”

And so it was for me. If I were to die suddenly in my mid-fifties, I thought, would I have realized my dreams? Within a week, I resigned from the newspaper job.

I still get too busy, lose focus, and drift away from God’s path for me. It’s refreshing to pause, still the clamor of life, rest and recharge spent batteries.

“Are you tired? Worn out?” Jesus says. “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” (Matthew 11:28–29, The Message).

I’m a slow learner, Lord. I have to force myself to slow down. Sometimes my body, mind, and spirit are just too exhausted to push on. Remind me often to pause to reflect, rest, and recharge. Amen.

Read and reflect on Psalm 23.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

Bummed Out

When my anxieties multiply, your comforting calms me down. – Psalm 94:19 CEB

Last Sunday we lit the pink candle on the Advent wreath at church – the Candle of Joy. I was feeling anything but joy.

It’s been a trying year, and the previous week brought even more challenges. A dear cousin passed away from lung cancer. I hadn’t even known she was sick. After thorough exams by two eye doctors, we still don’t know why the vision in my left eye is cloudy. My children are scattered, all three living in different states: Michigan, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Three of our grandchildren who used to live next door now live over 30 miles away.

DH and I are staying home this Christmas instead of traveling.

And Christmas Eve . . . Ah, that’s going to be hard. We’ll come home after the candlelight service at church to an empty, quiet house. After a lifetime of noise, food, fellowship, fun, and family. No sitting in the rocking chair in the corner of the dining room, watching all the chaos.

So, yeah, I’m bummed out.

When folks ask how I am, I say “good.” What a lie! But if I told them the truth, what good would it do? Chances are I’ll get the following words of advice:

“Look on the bright side.”

“Count your blessings.”

“Put on a happy face.”

Well, I don’t wanna.

People mean well, but sometimes I just get tired of those adages, those clichés, those trite statements that seem to overlook my pain. I don’t want to look on the bright side, count my blessings, put on a happy face. Not when I feel my best days are behind me. Not when I feel alone and so very far away from those closest to my heart.

It got me thinking about the stuff of life that steals our joy. So I posted a question on Facebook: “What steals your joy?”

Here are the top three:

  1. Worry and anxiety. One person wrote, “Worrying and stressing over things I have no control over.”
  2. Other people and the way they treat us, with negative people taking the top spot in that category for siphoning the joy out of others. Following close behind were people who are mean, pushy, whiny, and selfish. One lady wrote, “My son being a jerk to me now.”
  3. Being compared and criticized. One woman wrote, “Being yelled at.” How sad.

Completing the Top Ten were finances (“being poor” one person wrote), illness, conflict/arguments/strife, pain, overthinking, and stress.

Looking over the list, I asked myself two questions: Which of the joy stealers come from outside forces and which from within myself? Which of them are ones I can control?

I came up with three things I can do when it seems I’m losing my joy.

First, know where true joy comes from – God. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, who abides in me. That being said, it’s OK to be sad. You can still have abiding joy when you’re grieving.

And it’s OK to struggle to navigate the times of transition. Life changes. It is not static, and we must change with it, whether we like it or not.

When you need to shift gears and adjust, know God is right there with you: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you,” He tells us in Isaiah 43:2. “When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Notice He says “when” – not “if.”

Second, control the joy stealers that you can. Avoid toxic, negative people. Rein in your finances by setting and adhering to a reasonable budget, paying down debt, and making wise purchases. Refuse to worry. Conquer it with prayer and Scripture.

And finally, when you’ve done all you can, give the rest to God.

What is stealing your joy? What are you going to do about it?

When I’m feeling bummed out, Lord, help me as I mourn my losses, adjust to change, and trust You to guide me on my life’s journey. And remind me that weeping may endure for a night, no matter how long that night is, but joy WILL come in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Read and meditate on Psalm 30

 © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.