My husband took me to Hawaii for my fiftieth birthday. On the morning I turned fifty, we boarded a plane and headed toward Maui. Ocean breezes, turquoise waters, azure skies, emerald mountains, extravagant sunsets. It was paradise.
For the first three days we were there, I marveled at the beauty around me while standing on the shore, or sitting on the balcony in our hotel, or driving to find the end of the rainbow in the mountains on the island. But I couldn’t relax. I was so tightly wound, it took me days to finally settle in to the slow pace of island life.
On the fourth day of our trip, I noticed something different. My breath came easy, and my shoulders were no longer hovering around my ears. “Whew!” I said to my husband. “I think I’m finally relaxed. I can’t believe it took so long.” What a surprise to find out just how ragged I’d actually run myself in the months leading up to our trip.
An interviewer once asked me, “For someone who feels inwardly fragmented, conflicted, or even hypocritical in the way they are living their life, what encouragement might you give them today?”
Endlessly measuring my performance or talent or accomplishments or expectations or joys and sorrows against those of others’ often has me chasing after empty air, and using up all my resources in the process. In the end, I’m left with nothing but a short fuse, burned to its very last fiber. I burn out.
Jesus, as is his custom, offers us a better way. Rather than making the people around me my standard, Jesus reminds me, instead, to turn my attention back to him. In Matthew 11:28, he offers three guidelines:
Watch how I do it. Jesus set the perfect example of moving through life, attentive to the work God gave him. He was clear about his mission, and didn’t rush around, jumping through hoops, trying to garner the approval of people. He kept his attention on the work God had fashioned for his hands.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Grace. Even the word itself falls gently on the ear and through the lips. It is not worked up or overwrought. Instead, it moves with confident assurance that God is pleased and nothing can separate me from his love. Grace reminds me my work matters to God.
Keep company with me. It’s easy to rush ahead of God, thinking I’m in control. If I’m not careful, I can leave God in the dust, or—at best—treat him like a side dish to the rest of my life. But Jesus reminds of the importance of keeping company with the Father—stepping away for quiet conversations to chart my course and identify those things that are truly important.
It isn’t always possible to get away to an exotic location and take stock of the stressors in our lives. But, daily, with these three guidelines in the forefront, we can follow Christ’s example, learning to live freely and lightly.
Some questions for you: Which one of these guidelines will you focus on this week? How do you define grace?