Attentiveness: Constant Rhythms and New Beginnings
We have twelve grandchildren, eleven of whom will be starting back to school in the coming weeks. For some it is their first time going to school; for others it is their first time attending elementary school; and for one it is the first time passing into the halls of high school. For all of them, this moment creates a new beginning.
New beginnings carry all the excitement of starting something new, but also the anxiety of the uncertainty of something new. Hope and fear, informed by faith, is the tension we face as we struggle to live and to love.
At the same time, we, and all of God’s creation, are designed by God to live according to rhythms: work and rest; community and solitude; high tide and low tide; full moon and new moon; sunrise and sunset. So new beginnings, if entered into from a life that embraces godly rhythms, can lead to good and healthy human thriving.
Yet, the Christian rhythms that prepare us for new beginnings require self-discipline. A little self-denial, too (of desires and passions), is likewise required for human thriving. The daily rhythms of exercise, meditation, Bible reading, and prayer require a self-discipline that says “No” to the temptations that work against our sanctification and “Yes” to recovering our Christlikeness. Developing healthy rhythms requires focus, prayer, confession, and community. It is not easy, and we don’t do it alone.
It is also important to remember that self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit.
Now the works of the flesh are: fornication, impurity, to licentiousness . . . but the fruit of the Spirt is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24)
I would suggest that the relationship between constant rhythms and new beginnings is important to consider for ourselves, for our children, and for our seminary students. Our formation into the likeness of Christ gives us the courage required to love and serve others and similarly prepares us for the unexpected.
But the inverse is also true. New beginnings in the Christian life can also lead to new rhythms: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come” (I Corinthians 5:17). When we come to a point of embracing true faith in Jesus Christ, we have initiated a new beginning. We are made new. The recovery of the true self made in God’s image has begun. But, as we see in the epistles, this new reality is not yet fully revealed, so we “. . . work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you . . .” (Philippians 2:12-13).
New beginnings go hand-in-hand with new rhythms. And this will be true of students going to school, seminaries preparing students for ministry, and for the graduate who is beginning a life of service in a new church.
And this is the point of the rhythms and the attendant self-discipline they require: new beginnings should increasingly be transformed into deeper and deeper love and service for others. All sanctification, ultimately, is intended for the benefit of others. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). As we grow spiritually, we become more fit to sacrifice, even suffer, if necessary, for others.
Each new beginning, with all its excitement and anxiety should be thought of, more and more, in terms of how this new beginning can be a blessing to others. Self-discipline and self-denial prepare us to be that blessing.
When we moved back to the states after serving overseas, our children had some difficulties adjusting to American schools. One evening one our sons, who had been very gregarious, asked me, “Dad, how do you make friends?”
In the context of this new beginning, our outgoing son had no friends. New beginnings can be difficult. Often, I don’t have good answers, but on this occasion, I responded, “Son, if you want to have friends, you have to be a friend. Listen to the people around you and find ways to serve them or help them. And then I think you will find you have friends.”
Constant rhythms and new beginnings create opportunities to love and serve others, as Christ loved us. As we face this uncertain transition, it’s time to go back to school, Christian!
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.