Advent: Time Limits

“The unforced rhythms of grace” – that’s a lovely phrase in The Message version of the Bible for Matthew 11:30. Here are the verses that lead up to it:
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 learn from me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.1
That’s a very different take on the classic “My [ox] yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” But I’m feeling the need for that unforced rhythm in this pre-Christmas season.Pixabay Antelope Canyon walls Generous Stewards

I say “pre-Christmas,” not “Advent” – which it really is in terms of days, preparing for the Christ Child – because somehow I can exhaust myself even when I’m not following the consumer pattern of near-frantic social engagements or uncountable hours in stores.

Temporary exhaustion can come whenever my mind says yes to more involvement with the good-hearted people around me than my body’s energy can invest.

That’s the thing about time: it’s not always linear (past to present to future), but it is limited for us mortal creatures. I’m thinking of “mortal” not only in the length of our lives but also in the extent of our physical and emotional energy. This is a continuing life lesson for me, that “more is not always better.”

Okay, maybe this is an Advent issue after all. One theme for the four weeks before Christmas Day is making room in our lives for Jesus Christ. Here we’re not dealing just with a baby Jesus, but also with the “strong, passionate, vulnerable human being” who “reveals the personhood of God living right in the midst of us, challenging, comforting, and loving us.”1 If I crowd my days — or my mind and heart — with too many concerns and involvements, I can end up tiring myself out before focusing on God’s love in Christ. As some Christians say, “Keep the main thing the main thing.”

But isn’t part of this the main thing? Jesus often comes to us in the people we meet. (See Matthew 25:40 and Matthew 10:40-42, for example.) So a healthy, focused life requires discernment: careful consideration, including deciding what is worth doing and what is not, in one’s specific circumstances.

So I return to time and the unforced rhythms of grace that Jesus can teach us. He personally engaged people with 110% of his being. He also deliberately withdrew periodically. Most of all, he took time out to pray, keeping a close tether to his beloved Abba (“Daddy”), God, just as we are called to do.

Maybe this is one more gift we can receive through our living. Time limits our lives, not only by its length but also by our intensity. Yes, time is part of God’s creation, but it reminds us that we stand beside it as God’s creatures, too.

Perhaps this is a helpful thought for Advent after all. This season can raise some good questions. How am I living with the limits of time/intensity in each day, in each week? How does this awareness increase the value and beauty of every moment of my life?

Your partner by grace,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Matthew 11:28-30
2 – Betsy Schwarzentraub, Tossed in Time: Steering by the Christian Seasons, p. 26.