In his darkest moments Jesus felt heartbroken and alone. It’s hard to believe, at times, that we have a God that allowed for those two visceral emotions to be part of his experience here on earth? I do my best to avoid heartbrokenness and aloneness at all cost. Both are too painful to embrace.
“Then Jesus came with the disciples to a place called Gethsemane and said to them, “Sit down here while I go over there and pray.” Then he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be in terrible distress and misery. “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them, “stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he walked on a little way and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me—yet it must not be what I want, but what you want.”Then he came back to the disciples and found them fast asleep.” (Matt 26:36-40a)
I wonder specifically about the aloneness of Jesus. He had deep friendships with his twelve closest companions and was especially connected to Peter, James and John. When Jesus said, “stay here and watch with me,” he was desperately asking his closest friends to be with him. Their response was to fall asleep. If you read on Jesus asks his friends two more times to be with him in his moment of need and two more times they fall asleep.
What caused his friends to fall asleep? Maybe they saw the pain in Jesus’ eyes and just didn’t want to feel what he was feeling. Jesus was pleading for his friends to join him in his pain. I think part of what was happening in the Garden of Gethsemane is that Jesus was modeling for us how to hold pain, to not run away from it.
There was a lot going on that night for Jesus, much of it we can’t comprehend. But what we can understand, at some level, is what it feels like to be heartbroken and alone. Jesus is with us in our pain, he understands, and unlike his friends he doesn’t fall asleep. He hears our pleading and he is with us.
How could anyone learn to live freely and lightly in our world today? Our world is in chaos, and many of the things we face in day-to-day life seem constricted and heavy. So what is Jesus getting at with his offer of “freely and lightly” in Matthew 11?
“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.” (Matt 11:28-30)
It seems like the invitation of Jesus is to learn to live freely and lightly in the midst of circumstances that are heavy. Jesus understands that life on earth can be difficult because he lived it. He especially lived it in the days leading up to his death. Phrases like, “take this cup from me” and “why have you forsaken me” remind us that even Jesus desired a different road than the one he was set to walk.
I don’t believe that Jesus’ invitation of freely and lightly ignores the pain and turmoil of our lives. This posture of freely and lightly that Jesus offers comes when we realize that we are not in control. Jesus’ journey to the cross and our journey through life is about letting go, it’s about surrender, it’s about trust. As we learn to hold things more loosely we get a glimpse of what it means to live our lives freely and lightly.
It turns out that no matter what, God can be trusted. God is with us no matter where we go or what happens in this life. I grew up in church, attended countless summer camps, was open to Jesus in high school, became a Young Life leader in college, had amazing mentors through my 20’s, married a woman who loves Jesus, graduated from seminary, had more amazing mentors through my 30’s and early 40’s, and developed many good friendships around Jesus the past 20 years. Even with all of that somehow I missed it, I missed that God can be trusted no matter what. Only recently has this reality settled in.
Jesus believed God as Father could be trusted. This appears to be Jesus’ most fundamental “rhythm of grace” that he invites us into in Matt 11:28-30. Jesus ultimate rhythm when he was here on earth was the moment-by-moment belief that His Father could be trusted. The belief that the Father would be there, that Jesus wouldn’t be left alone.
This belief that God can be trusted is the very definition of rest. If you’re wondering how trust is rest, consider the alternative. How do we ever truly experience rest if there is not trust that God is going to be with us no matter what? If that belief is not inside, somewhere down deep, then we tend to run around frantic trying to prove to ourselves that we are not alone. When Jesus offers, “rest for our souls,” he is offering something that he lived in his humanity.
Jesus invites us into this rest, this posture of utmost trust in the Father. I believe Jesus had to trust that the Father would be there on the other side of the cross. In his humanity Jesus did not know for certain that there would be a resurrection. He believed it, proclaimed it, but ultimately he had to go to the cross trusting that His Father would not leave him. Jesus pinnacle act was dying on the cross. I wonder if his greatest impact was teaching us how to be human, how to trust the Father no matter what.
We are three weeks into Lent and I keep returning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, specifically his offer to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” The rhythm I’ve noticed lately is his rhythm of aloneness that feels like community.
Jesus spent time with people and created community wherever he travelled. He also often made time to be alone. His friend Luke tells us,
“The news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)
The “wilderness” in Greek is a place that is solitary and uninhabited by other people at the time. Put simply, it is a place to be alone. This rhythm of Jesus does not appear to be aloneness for the sake of being by himself, as in an escape from crowds. It is instead a place to be alone with the Father. As I see it, Jesus had a rhythm of aloneness that actually felt more like community than being with others.
I have experienced glimpses of aloneness that feels like community. Through developing a rhythm of quiet over the years, of being with God and God alone, something mysterious has happened. I feel a sense of communion with God as Father, Son, Spirit as I sit in the quiet in the presence of God. A number of years ago I wrote a prayer in the front of my journal that I read each morning. The prayer ends with this:
As I sit here this morning with you as Father, Son, Spirit I am simply continuing the dance, this ongoing conversation, this ongoing relationship that You have invited me into. I am engaged, all of me is here with you. Speak Holy Trinity for I am listening.
I have struggled with sleeplessness off an on in my adult life. The common theme when sleeplessness sets in is worry. My mind races and I tend to try to do two main things: solve problems in my head on my own or play out possible scenarios for whatever is consuming my thoughts. As I continue during Lent to consider the “unforced rhythms of grace” that Jesus offers, I wonder what His life has to say in regards to sleep.
The fact that Jesus slept at all is a great reminder of his humanity. He had the biggest mission statement in history and yet he slept. Maybe if part of it had to do with his Jewish outlook on when the day begins. A new day begins at sundown in Jewish culture and the first gift of God for the new day is rest. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the unforced rhythm that Jesus offers regarding sleep is to see it as a gift from God. Even Jesus received this gift from his Father.
We have the opportunity to join Jesus in beginning our day by sleeping. I believe the first gift God wants to give us each day is sleep. It’s practical surrender, and I know Jesus is very interested in us learning to live a surrendered life. When my mind begins to spin or wander as I lay my head on the pillow, I remind myself that I’m not God, I’m off duty, He’s got it. I’m off the hook, it’s not up to me. May we receive this unforced rhythm of Jesus as we learn to see sleep as a gift.
As I mentioned on Ash Wednesday, I am exploring rest during Lent this year. Specifically, during these opening days of Lent I am looking at Jesus statement in Matt 11:29: Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. It seems Jesus is offering rhythms, rhythms that we can lean into or reject.
As I type the word rhythm it makes me think of Father Rock. He is a retired Catholic priest who lived from age 70-85 in the hills of Oregon in a private lake community. He spent his “retirement” walking with men by having them join him at “Rockhaven” (his home) for a two-day retreat. I was able to return to Rock Haven once or twice a year for ten years and it was wonderful!
One of Rock’s staple teachings is ROD (Rhythm, Order, Discipline). Father Rock’s teaches how Jesus lived his life with Rhythm, Order and Discipline. According to Rock, RHYTHM is: that which occurs regularly, what is repeated and expected. The human body has natural rhythms, thus rhythm is helpful to the accomplishment of all things human.
How do we develop Rhythm in our life? (Father Rock)
Plan your day with broad expectation
Set priorities from urgency, importance, helpfulness
Do what needs to be done today
Take care of peoples’ needs first, then work things
Make prayer part of your daily rhythm
Do major work when you have major energy
These insights from Father Rock are practically helpful for me to look at as I begin a new day/week.
What are the unforced rhythms of grace? Is it possible to learn them in 2019?
Eugene Peterson did a marvelous job with his interpretation of the Bible through the Message. In a few sections particularly, I believe he captured the essence of Jesus’ teaching, and the truest meaning of the Greek text, perhaps more than any other biblical scholar. Matt 11:28-30 is one of those sections.
“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.”
Throughout Lent this year I’ll be looking at Jesus’ teachings and promises around rest. To kick it off this Ash Wednesday, the “unforced rhythms of grace,” statement of Jesus stands out. So what are the unforced rhythms of grace and how might we learn them?
I believe the unforced rhythms are the rhythms that keep us in tune to ourselves and God. The once atheist turned follower of Jesus CS Lewis wrote, “The first job each morning consists in shoving [all other voices] all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” As we consider the unforced rhythms of grace, we are wise to ask ourselves if we are doing this on a consistent basis. Are we “shoving back…letting the quieter life come flowing in?” It’s not easy with the demands of the day, but the alternative is to keep living the opposite. Perhaps we call it the forced rhythms of antonyms of grace: disfavor, deformity, unkindness, pride, works.
As hard as it can be to learn the unforced rhythms of grace, it is comforting to remember that it is the way of Jesus. It is what he modeled when he walked the earth. His teaching have a way of keeping us grounded in the rhythms of grace that we were designed for. As we consider the unforced rhythms of grace, it is not so much a new learning, as it is a returning to that which we were created for.