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But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

Luke 5:16

As someone who was always active and could learn attain adequacy (not to be confused with genuine skill) at physical skills fairly quickly, one of the hardest things about running a a long race was that I couldn't just "do it." Even most very gifted athletes are unable to get up and run a marathon or even a half-marathon. It is something that you need to train your body to do. And I found the idea of rhythm to be one of the most helpful tools to learning to run well. Musically, rhythm is a consistent pattern within time. It carries the same idea in running . . . and in life.

When I ran, I found myself practicing three levels of rhythm - each one carried out in different lengths of time.

  1. Breathing rhythm. This is the shortest practice of rhythm. As I ran, I found it helpful to adopt a measured and steady way of breathing. This short and steady rhythm allowed my body to get the oxygen I needed without hyperventilating.
  2. Running rhythm. Often referred to a pace in running, my musical sensibility felt it as a rhythm. This steady movement of one step in front of the other kept me moving forward well.
  3. Training rhythm. This extended rhythm is what actually helps someone grow into a person who can run the distance set out before them. Shorter runs, growing to longer run, and training runs - with rest and recovery days mixed in - help the runner gain strength and stamina. It helps the runner establish what the best running rhythm and breathing rhythm for them at that stage in their life.

As we run the race of life that is set out before us, rhythms are equally important. Consistent patterns in time help us to maintain what we need to keep moving, keep us moving forward well, and help us train for the long haul. Even Jesus had regular rhythms that included withdrawing from the pressures of life so that he could live in ways that reflected his Father. Like running, rhythms of our life can be carried out in different lengths of time.

  1. Daily rhythms. It is very helpful for our spiritual, mental, and emotional health to find regular daily practices (rhythms) to keep us breathing in the right stuff and exhaling the stuff that isn't good for us. I strongly encourage you to experiment and find regular practices of engaging with the Bible, prayer, and thanksgiving. Incorporating these into regular rhythms will help you run well each day. Of course, incorporating healthy things may also mean letting go of unhealthy rhythms. Do practices like watching the news right before bed or scrolling through social media feeds first thing in the morning really help you run well? Some of the things that I find help me run well each day are 1) having a regular time for reflection and prayer (recently I've been using an app called Lectio365 to help me with this), 2) doing a at least a short time of exercise each day, and 3) plugging my phone in, in a room other than my bedroom (this keeps me from looking at it right before I go to sleep and as soon as I wake up).
  2. Weekly rhythms. From the beginning of guiding people in how to live well, God taught and modeled a weekly sabbath rest. Setting aside a day to not work and to be restored - body, mind, and soul - will transform your ability to run well. I likely would not be in ministry any more had I not made and effort to adopt this practice. In fact, I may have had a personal breakdown. I practice it poorly, but doing it poorly is better than not at all. There is much to be considered when talking about sabbath, but that must be left for another time. If you would like to explore sabbath more, there are helpful resources at www.emotionallyhealthy.org. (Start with 4 Steps to a Meaningful Sabbath and a search for sabbath on the site.)
  3. Monthly/Annual Rhythms. This is an area where confession is necessary. I do not have established monthly or annual rhythms. The Jewish life Jesus lived was centred around annual celebrations, festivals, and feasts. Our lives are usually structured around school years and seasons. Some of you have adopted annual rhythms around visiting cottages or trailers. Others have adopted annual rhythms around camp visits or family vacations. Still others, maintain annual rhythms with Christmas and birthdays as central times. Whatever it is, I encourage you to find annual rhythms to facilitate both effective work and necessary rest!

As you consider rhythms in your life, let me suggest two important things to keep in mind:

  1. Rhythms are unique to each person and each family. You can learn from others, but experiment to determine what will work for you.
  2. Rhythms can change depending on your time, place, and circumstance. For a runner, the rhythm is different right before a long race than it is months away. It is also different if they are facing an injury or travelling or running with someone else.

Thinking about the rhythms of your life isn't about locking oneself into one way of doing things forever. It is about being intentional about how you move through time each a daily, weekly, month, and year so that you can breathe well, run well, and live well in the abundant life Jesus has for you!