Athletes talk about ‘flow’ – a place where the hard, effortful, yet possible, becomes rhythmic and natural.
Sometimes, a runner will run a distance quicker than they’ve ever run before, and be able to remember and document the depth of commitment that was required to run that hard and the moments they committed themselves to enduring for the sake of that outcome. Other times, though, they’ll be almost bewildered by what just happened.
Everything seems to click in a ‘flow’ state. Athletes enter an almost zen-like consciousness; totally aware of their surrounds and what is transpiring, but oblivious to the relative brilliance of what they’re accomplishing. They’re ‘in the groove’, ‘in the pocket’, ‘in the zone’ – whatever phrase best captures that state for you.
It’s the point at which you truly feel you can ‘run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint’.
The psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, defines flow as a state in which people “are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this ‘optimal experience’ they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”
You don’t need to be an elite athlete to appreciate or enjoy a “flow” state. My wife, Fiona, enjoyed a taste of it last Saturday morning. Running 12 kilometres with a buddy at run club, she had a long stretch where she felt strong and stronger. Kilometres went by and she ‘felt like she could run forever’. Thankfully, she couldn’t, or I’d be chasing her into the desert, but you get the idea.
You don’t need to be a runner or an athlete of any sort to experience flow. Essentially, any time the pleasure and joy of a pursuit overtake the labour of that pursuit, you’re in ‘flow’. It’s unforced, and there’s a rhythm to it.
Rhythm’s been a big theme as we’ve begun another year together at The Big Table.
Last weekend, we talked about the ‘Rhythm of Gospel Opportunity’ and a few ways we could cultivate this rhythm.
A Gospel Opportunity is a ‘pregnant possibility of the heartbeat of God’s Kingdom being realised through our actions that requires faith, courage and the breath of the Holy Spirit to bring to life’.
Cultivating this rhythm is driven by a deepening of our understanding of the character of God and how he wants to bring the values of His kingdom to earth. When we see His heart for reconciliation, restoration, grace and mercy; His heart to bless and the ways we’ve received blessing; and the depth of his love and forgiveness towards us, it raises our expectation of the ‘good news territory’ we’re in and of which we’re ambassadors.
Enjoying the rhythm of gospel opportunity in our lives doesn’t come without some reconfiguring, both blatant and subtle.
We need to frame the tangents of gospel opportunity as highlights of journey in Jesus, not disruptions. When we see them as intrusions, they’re inconvenient. When we see them as opportunities to bear witness to the reign and rule of God, they’re filled with kingdom-revealing opportunity. They’re tangents en-route to our destination, not derailing detours. They’re a source of flow, not its cessation.
Part of this reconfiguring may also be the reframing of some of our ‘have-to’s‘ into ‘get-to’s’.
When everything seems fueled by obligation, there’s little joy to be had. It’s wearying and robs us of possibility.
“I get to go to work” immediately frames a large part of my life with possibility compared to “I have to work”. The one-word change reminds me of the privilege and possibility of my vocation. It is how I get to provide for my family. I have income-generating work to do. It’s a place I get to practice gifts and skills I’ve been given and acquired, and a context for embracing gospel opportunities.
Time and busyness change a lot of ‘get-to’s’ back to ‘have-to’s’ because we resort to accomplishing and conquering over revelling and ‘flowing’. That sort of reconfiguring isn’t likely a one-off transaction but a strenuous pruning to rhythm.
I think this is where Jesus is heading when he speaks of ‘learning the unforced rhythms of grace’. That’s flow right there. He doesn’t suggest that we’ll arrive there and never leave either. There’s the suggestion that it is foreign territory and we need to continue to learn and survey its landscape and topography. It’s grace that fuels our return to rhythm and gets us back into the flow of the Holy Spirit. It’s also what makes those rhythms life-giving, not joy-stealing and enables us to enjoy the flow of His fullness in and through us.
“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 work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”