Unforced Rhythms of Grace

mountsinai1I have long loathed the word balance.  Awhile ago, adapting a principle I read in Matthew (from the Message translation), I exchanged ‘balance’ in my vocabulary with ‘rhythm.’

Matthew 11: 28-30 “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.”

Doesn’t that already make you breathe easier?  God, in all his perspective, has written a daily rhythm we can listen for and sing along to. Some days, the rhythm picks up a bit and you move fast, other days, it’s slow and sweet and the only way you can fold into the day’s rhythm is by listening to the one who has ‘written every day before they came to be (Psalm 139).’ Balance makes me think I am in control. I am checking boxes, I am managing time, I am developing, controlling. Rhythm sounds like a posture of listening, discernment, and being Spirit-led.

There is this funny exchange in Exodus 19 where God asks Moses to climb Mt. Sinai three times in a row. He draws him up to tell him a message to take back down. I might be thinking if I were Moses, ‘If I heard you tell me to come up, I could hear you tell me what you want to say from down at the base of the mountain. That way an entire day is not being ‘wasted’ with the climb..’.  He arrives at the top though and the Lord tells him to go back down and get Aaron and come back up again. Really? If I heard you tell me to come up the first time, I could have heard the direction to grab Aaron before I climbed this mountain! At this point, Moses was 80 years old and climbing the 6,000 feet of Mt. Sinai was no small task. His actions were ‘out of balance’, he spent the bulk of the week either climbing up or down a mountain.


I think God had something for Moses in that long week’s walk. He learned to keep company with him, to listen for direction, and as the Lord tested his obedience and submission, he prepared him for what was coming in Exodus chapter 20, the Ten Commandments.

Words associated with balance speak to me of fear, “Am I keeping everything together?” “Am I looking like I have it all under control?”  And fear has a way of robbing us of storylines God is offering.

I am not perfect at this. With nine children and a full-time job, I have a lot of plates spinning in the air, but that is all the more reason for me to listen to the one who promises if I keep company with him, I ‘will learn to live freely and lightly.’


Beth Guckenberger

This post is part of our series Finding Balance as a Busy Mom. 

Please check the series page for all of the posts! 

Finding Balance as a Busy Mom

Letting Go of the Pipe

I was with a visiting friend the other day in a really poor neighborhood here in Mexico. Standing on the edge of a small river, we noticed a thin pipe running across the top of opposite banks bringing water from the “civilized” side of the river to the other, where the villagers live without running water.  What catches our attention is a line of chickens crossing the river like tight ropewalkers, clutching the pipe with their talons.  Step over step, they balanced top-heavy bodies, painstakingly making their way across the pipe.

chickenWe stand, our heads tilted to one side, mesmerized.   It kind of looked to me like a Far Side cartoon.

Finally my friend breaks the silence, “Aren’t chickens… birds?” he asks, hesitating over each word.

“I sure think so,” I casually answer back, not breaking my stare.

“Then… don’t they have, wings?” he persists.

“I guess so, I like to eat chicken wings…“ I smile, knowing where he is headed.

He then dives into the river and starts clapping and yelling underneath the birds, trying to scare them off the pole.  They very tentatively begin to protest and then unhappily flap their tiny wings and virtually sail across the remaining pipe.

“Yahoo!” he comes climbing back up on the bank, triumphantly flinging himself down.  “Although painful for sure, we did them a favor. They never have to step carefully again.  They now know they are flyers.  They can come across at their leisure, whenever they want.”

We sit down in the dirt, tired from all the excitement, proud.

Several moments of silence pass before our philosophical discussion begins.  What pipes do we hold on to, when we have wings to fly? What makes someone cling to what seems secure, but is clearly a harder route to cross? What kinds of things scare us enough to let go and use our ‘wings’?  Do we hold on because everyone else does?  Would we be the first to let go, or the last?  Do they resent the one who scared them off, or are they now grateful? The questions ensue.

We walk down the road for the next hour, visiting families in a neighborhood outreach, praying with them about troubles I have grown used to seeing, but not callous to hearing.  Between each house and visit though, I return to our chicken conversation. It not only makes me giggle, the metaphors were fascinating.

When it is time to return to the river for our things before leaving, I start asking around for a camera.  I want a picture of the flying chickens.   When we reach the bank, my heart sinks.

Walking again across the tiniest pipe you have ever seen, is our same family of poultry.

“Is that why we call someone a bird brain? Did they really already forget?” I ask frustrated.

My deep thinking friend shakes his head, “Aren’t we just the same though?  Bursts of glory when we let go, then a return to the same old familiar pattern?”

“Not me. No.” I shake my head angrily.  “I want to use my wings. I want to be done with careful walking.”

He smiles at me.

“Beth, then it’s time to let yourself be shooed off the pipe.”

In this season of new growth and warm weather, when we shed off our boots and scarves, I want to shed something else. I want to shed my fears of letting go. I want to shed routine and doing what I do because I have always done it.

I want my little chickens to watch me fly and believe there is more to life than hanging on a pipe.


Beth Guckenberger, bethguckenberger.com

Missed Shots

Missed ShotsThe buses to the away games, the water bottles we shared, the uniforms. Growing up, I loved playing sports. All year round with the same girls, and our ever-increasing skills. After lost games, I had to pretend to be sadder than I really was. For me it was always more about the camaraderie and less about the season record.

In the fall we played volleyball until our palms were red and our knees bruised. In the winter it was basketball, and I responded to everything about the game, especially how fast it was and how aggressive I could be. Then, come spring, we laced up our running shoes with the boys and played our one co-ed sport—chasing each other around a track until we literally fell over. Still today, I have scars with cinders in them. Finally, June rolled around and it was camps and clinics and summer leagues to stay in shape until the fall.

My involvement in sports started sometime around my fifth-grade year and continued until eventually I graduated from high school. Despite my best hopes, genetics would determine I stop growing somewhere in the ninth grade. So throughout high school, my 5’4″ frame wasn’t getting a lot of action under anyone’s basket. I learned though, if I wanted to ever play basketball and more importantly, contribute, I was going to need to learn to develop an outside shot. So for many years I worked on my arc and accuracy until I could be the player people would pass to on the top of the key.

During a basketball tournament in high school over the Christmas holidays, our team was winning each bracket, until eventually we earned a spot in the final game. We played evenly against our competition throughout the entire four quarters, and found ourselves down by one with less than thirty seconds left on the game clock.

Coach Stan Kiehl called a time-out and looked at me. “Do you think if we get you the ball, you could pop one up from the outside before they have a chance to organize much of a defense? You think you can make it?”

I looked around the huddle and said, more confidently than I felt, “Yes, get it to me. I’ll do it, Coach.”

My friend Dawn dribbled down the court and passed me the ball, where I squared up, eyed the backboard, and threw up the shot.

It ringed around the rim . . . and then rolled out.

Seconds later, the buzzer went off and the game was over. We’d lost the tournament by one point.

I don’t remember much about the after-game speech our coach gave; what I most remember was not wanting to face the parents of my friends, who I knew would offer me looks of frustration or pity, or some combination. I took my time gathering my things and finally, when I was sure everyone was gone, I made my way out of the locker room to see who was waiting to take me home.

As I walked through the double doors into the gym, I saw my dad with a ball under his arm. He didn’t say anything, just looked me in the eye and bounced me the ball, pointing on the floor to where I had missed the shot. I caught the ball, and feeling frustrated (with him, the game, myself) I squared up and shot.


I rolled my eyes and held up two fingers, then reached down for my bag. I gave him the look teenage girls have perfected that sarcastically implied, Satisfied?

He rebounded my ball, ignored that look, and passed the ball to me again, pointing on the floor where I need to shoot.

I threw the ball up less accurately and still made the basket.

Catching the rebound, he passed me the ball a third time.


This went on for another four or five baskets until my quivering lip finally gave way to the crying that had been hovering underneath.

He rebounded the last ball and cocking his head, looked at me, not with frustration, but with tenderness.

What? I thought, confused. What is it that you want?

 When he saw my face, he quickly came over and wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug.

Sighing, after a moment he pulled back to look me in the eye, “Honey, I just wanted you to go to bed tonight remembering what it is you are capable of.”

There are scores of verses I read that implore us to “sit in the heavenly realms” and “fix our eyes on Jesus” and “set our minds on things above,” and they are poetic and lyrical and mystical and beautiful. But applicable? What do those words even mean?

How do we experience God in the midst of our missed shots? Is it even possible that when he looks at us, he sees only what we are capable of and not the moments when we lose the game?



Beth Guckenberger (Back2Back Ministries)

A Mother’s Protective Instinct

A Mother's Protective Instinct

It’s basketball try-out season in my son’s junior high, and it’s giving me plenty of teachable moments. I just assumed those teachable moments would be more directed at my son and less about my own formation. We are new to this district, after having lived out of the country for his entire life, in a place where basketball wasn’t the national sport. So here we are, a thirteen-year-old, full of hope, in a gym full of fifty candidates with a bench that will hold twelve.

I started early with the are-you-sure-this-is-what-you-want questions. The answer was an emphatic yes. Then I followed up with my husband, can-you-stop-him-or-teach-him-everything-he-needs-to-know this week? The answer was an emphatic no. So I sit and wait, watching for signs of rejection, or discouragement, wanting to protect and prevent any negative emotion from coming his way.

The open gym weeks start. I am early to pick him up, ready for his tears with my milkshake I collected on the way to school. His response has been positive and I find myself sucking down the chocolaty goodness, needing it more than him.

Today are the cuts. I start this day with prayer and feel a peace God has been offering me for weeks but that I rejected. I wanted to protect and control or, worse yet, manipulate the situation to avoid him feeling pain. This is not reality, my son’s gentle understanding of his ability and this opportunity is an exercise of risk taking I ultimately want him to do more of. Exercising this muscle will benefit him in the years to come. Offering himself and feeling ok with the results is a sign of maturity, so why would I wish away this chance for him to grow? Because if he has to risk, that means I do too. If he has to face rejection, so do I. If he isn’t good enough, maybe I am not either. That confession is ugly. Those fears could win this war, but I won’t let them. I am awake this morning, believing and trusting regardless of whose name is posted on the gym door this morning, life is about leaning in. It’s about going after what you want, doing your best and believing the results are a part of a sovereign plan.

“I am so glad we are trying out for BB, Josh.” I told him as I dropped him off this morning.

We are trying out, Mom?” he teased me, smiling. “Hope we make it.” He laughs.

I think we will make it just fine. With or without a jersey at the end of this week, we are going to make it just fine. . . .


Beth, BethGuckenberger.com

*Image c/o stock.xchng

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