The Art of Pressing On in Our Rhythms

I used to stuff and starve. I’d stuff myself with food, and then deprive myself of it. Or I’d fast in preparation for a big meal. I didn’t want those binges showing up on my body.

Unfortunately, stuffing and starving doesn’t work for weight control in the long run (or so I remember reading somewhere). It’s also not very comfortable. I was always ravenously hungry or painfully full, never moderately hungry or pleasantly satisfied. I was stuck in a cycle of feast or famine.

I used to do the same thing with sleep. When my high school homework kept me up late, I’d sleep in on the weekends. My physics teacher Mr. Carmichael told me the engineering students at the university I was planning to attend also studied late into the weeknights and then tried to catch up on the weekends.

But, he said, the science showed that this approach doesn’t work. Habitually depriving ourselves of sleep and then sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t give us quality rest. Our bodies aren’t made for that rhythm. (Though of course his wisdom did nothing to prevent me from succumbing to it again in college.)

I think I used to stuff and starve in my relationship with God, too. I’d subsist on crumbs from Sunday morning services and on pre-digested meals from Bible class. Then I’d spiritually pig out at conferences and camps.

Stuff and starve. Feast and famine. It’s not a healthy cycle, whether it’s food, sleep, or our relationship with God. It’s taken me years to learn how to pace myself in these things. How to eat when I’m hungry and (mostly) stop when I’m full. How to (mostly) get up early to meet with God and how to (mostly) go to bed on time. My rhythms aren’t perfect by any means, but they’re much healthier than before.

I remember hearing in pre-field training that a break needs to be at least two weeks long in order to be effective. You need that much time to decompress from the stress of cross-cultural living, they said. But it left me wondering, just how reasonable is that expectation? Can everyone get away for that long? And how badly might my mental, emotional, and spiritual health deteriorate in between those long rests?

I personally cope much better when I have shorter, more frequent breaks. I don’t have to freak out if I miss a regularly scheduled exercise session or early morning devotional. My times of refreshing are no longer scarce; I know I can pick them up again tomorrow. This is the art of pressing on in our rhythms, of forgetting yesterday’s failed rhythms.

I’m not saying an extended period of rest is bad – far from it! In the Old Testament God commanded His people to observe a Sabbath year every seven years and the year of Jubilee every fifty. But He also commanded a weekly Sabbath, and we humans need shorter, more evenly-spaced feeds of both God and food.

So we plan our daily and weekly rhythms of work and rest. We can also add monthly and quarterly rhythms to the mix. For example, our family needs a ministry and cultural break about every three months, and we take a few days outside the city to rest, unplug from work, and play together as a family.

We’ve discovered that if we don’t take a weekend away every quarter, if we try to stretch it longer than that, then we start disliking our host culture. And if we wait too long, all the stress of daily life that I’ve been stuffing down over the past several months tends to explode all over my family as soon as we reach our destination. So we’re diligent in taking that quarterly respite.

This year I began a rhythm I learned about in Wayne Cordeiro’s book Leading on Empty. It’s called a “personal retreat day,” and it involves going away by yourself for a half to a full day and meeting God in nature, in prayer and journaling, in His Word, and in other good books. Personal retreats don’t have to be all that frequent – maybe just a few times a year – but I’ve found they renew my hunger for living and working overseas and provide some space for the junk to start filtering out of my soul.

As much as I love my rhythms, I have to admit they sometimes get off-kilter. For instance, I stayed up much too late to write this. And, I’m currently visiting my passport country — something we all know can disrupt our soul care. But here’s the thing about rhythms: they don’t have to be rigid. We can always start again tomorrow when mercies are new.

So if your rhythm is flagging and your soul is suffering, take heart. You can always start again. God will be right there waiting to commune with you. He’s not mad about waiting. So let’s not beat ourselves up when our rhythms aren’t perfect; they will never be.

Instead, let’s resolve to let the dawn reset our rhythms. Let’s choose not to stuff and starve. Let’s choose not to oscillate wildly between feast and famine. Let’s commit together to regular rest and renewal — for ourselves, for our families, and for the ones we serve.

What rhythms are you pressing into?


  1. Krista B November 9, 2015

    Wise words, Elizabeth. I’d never really equated new mercies with a new chance to try to get our rhythms right, but they are. Thanks for a positive spin and much-needed encouragement.

    1. Elizabeth November 9, 2015

      I’m so glad these words encouraged you, Krista! I love the idea of new mercies too 🙂

      Praying for fresh mercies for you as you implement burnout-prevention rhythms (I read your recent post here at VA). I know God is with you as you draw these new boundaries. May you feel His presence with you as you say both your yeses and your nos. Hugs!

  2. Brittany November 9, 2015

    Man. I feel like I can’t ever figure out a rhythm! Such grace in the truth that as we readjust rhythms, God’s mercies are fresh!

    I love the thought of taking a quarterly escape trip with the family for rest and reset. My kiddos are not getting the Mommy I want them to have because I constantly feel overwhelmed. I feel like I have binges on rest time, but it isn’t truly restful because of guilt, still feeling hurried, having to still feed my family which is what seems to take up all my days anyway, etc. To feed my soul sometimes means I need to get away from cooking/dishes and laundry!

    1. Elizabeth November 9, 2015

      Oh Brittany, I feel you! And I think a lot of women feel this too, the never ending feeding schedule of mommy-hood, and feeling guilty for taking a break. You described it so well here.

      At the same time, we feel so alone in this, like we’re the only mom struggling with it. Did you by any chance happen to see that movie “Mom’s Night Out”? It depicted this inner conflict so accurately that I CRIED — and also began to realize I wasn’t alone.

      I know God hears your cries for help in wanting to be the best mommy you can be. He loves you, AND He loves your kids. Praying you’ll be able to find the time to get in a quarterly escape, whether all together with your family over a weekend, or by yourself for a day (or both! we can always dream big, right??). Sending hugs.

  3. Peggy Trotter November 9, 2015

    You always seem to choose a subject of the giant I’m wrestling. Wow. I loved reading your words. I just started embracing, “Ruthlessly eliminating hurry.” That will be a long course. Thanks for your sweet insight on this. I appreciate it and it makes me ponder the struggle I, myself, am engaged it.  Prays for you and yours!

    1. Elizabeth November 9, 2015

      Thanks for your prayers and encouraging words, Peggy! Funny how we’re on the same train of thought, huh? 🙂

      “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry” — those are Dallas Willard’s words to John Ortberg, right? I LOVE his “Soul Keeping” book. But I have to say, ruthlessly eliminating hurry is hard work! Praying we can both continue seeking new ways to do it. Hugs.

      1. Peggy Trotter November 12, 2015

        Yes! I haven’t read the book. I may have to check into that.

  4. AnonymousHeart November 10, 2015

    Definitely loved this post, thanks for sharing! Needed the encouragement! 🙂

    1. Elizabeth November 12, 2015

      So glad this was good timing for you 🙂

  5. Anita Mathias November 10, 2015

    I am living in a foreign culture (though not for ministry). My kids go to an intensely pressured school, which has 6 week half-terms, with a week off every six weeks, and at least 3 weeks off after each 12 week term. I find if we go away for some for all of the school holidays, we are all well-rested, well-connected with each other, and more productive. The playing hard makes us able to work hard as it empties out, and then refills the mind and intense emotions, and gives us  Vitamin D, rest, and exercise. Nice to read of someone else who has the same rhythms of getting away!

    1. Elizabeth November 12, 2015

      It’s also good for me to hear of others’ ways of dealing with high stress, so thanks for chiming in here, Anita. I always value your comments! So glad you’ve found a rhythm that works for you 🙂

  6. Anita Mathias November 10, 2015

    Oops. Didn’t realise that image would come out so big. How embarrassing. Trying to see how I can remove it.

    1. Julie November 10, 2015

      That always seems to happen on here – it’s not just you! 🙂

  7. Julie November 10, 2015

    This was helpful to me! I struggle to maintain routines and I think this is partly because of my creative (scatter-brained?) personality, but always feel better when I follow the rhythms I’ve found helpful in the past, whether that means planning my day before I start it, following my to-do list, reading my Bible and praying before I start my task list, working out regularly, or anything along those lines…. Thanks for the reminder that it’s normal to get out of routine, sometimes but that it doesn’t mean those rhythms aren’t worth getting back into just because I feel I’ve “failed” at them so many times. 

    Of course, I married a man that is super routine. He used to eat the same three fruits in the same order every work day, until I came along and shook up his routine. Ha! God has such a sense of humour 😉

    I also wanted to say, not only did God command Jubilee years and Sabbaths to Israel, but he even gave us the routines of day and night, showing us that we need rest daily. He showed us that He didn’t mean for us to just be “on the go” constantly, but that we should have patterns of work and rest in every day. He takes such good care of us!

    Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Elizabeth November 12, 2015

      I like the way you say it here, Julie — that it’s normal to get out of routine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting back in to.

      And thank you for the day/night insight. Hadn’t thought in that way before! Now that you say it, it seems so obvious, but yeah, really profound! We really do need to sleep at night.

    1. Elizabeth November 14, 2015

      Hi Wendy! So glad you have something to share at the Grove this week. You can find the linky button on this post:

  8. Anna November 20, 2015

    This is a good reminder for me.  Lately, my life is too erratic and full of transitions.  It seems like it’s hard to get into any good rhythms or routines.  I need to remember to let each day start fresh. 🙂

    1. Elizabeth November 21, 2015

      I really feel you on the difficulty of getting into good routines right now! I’m currently in America (you too, right?) and it feels all rhythm is lost. But I’m with you — here’s to starting each day fresh, both now and when I (we?) head back across the ocean 🙂

      1. Anna November 21, 2015

        Yes, currently in the US. 🙂  Heading back to a new place in Africa, and we kind of know when and where, but not yet confirmed.   Learning to wait on God and His timing.

  9. Angie November 23, 2015

    I took a half day personal retreat day earlier this year. I was so excited! Home alone, coffee, snacks, Bible and journal, and videos to watch. An hour in I laid down to relax and watch the videos….(do you see it coming?)…and I fell asleep! I guess that’s what I needed! 🙂

    1. Elizabeth November 23, 2015

      Sounds like that nap was just what you needed! (I have a tendency to think our bodies are actually smarter than our minds and will tell us something’s wrong before we will admit it. Instead, we just want to soldier on and keep going without regard for our bodies. But I digress.)

      Anyway, as I said, I’m so glad you got a nap. And I’m so glad you were able to take this half-day retreat. They are so good for every single part of us — mind, soul, body. Here’s to taking more in the future!

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