When I received Gwen Jackson’s book Unforced Rhythms in the mail, I hesitated to show the book to my husband. The idea of even questioning the appropriateness of daily devotions seemed almost heretical. Growing up in an extremely strict, rule-based Christian background, I believed that the necessity of that daily hour with Jesus first thing in the morning was almost vital to salvation.
I remember my children’s daily devotional book that I dutifully read every morning as an elementary school student, and my 38 journals that I filled with daily prayers as a teenager. I grew up believing the rule that I must spend daily time with Jesus in order to call myself a follower of Christ. As a result of the echoes of my early doctrinal obligations, I approached Jackson’s book with great fear and trembling, looking cautiously at the sky for a lightning bolt to strike my head.
As I opened Jackson’s delightful and illuminating book, however, I hungrily began to devour her truth-based, liberating presentation of discipleship, Christian formation, and conformity to the character of Christ.
While the idea of questioning daily devotions seemed outlandish to me, I also have struggled for my 32 years of faith to follow a daily devotional schedule. As an artist, a writer, and a creative individual, I believe that I might trend toward a more seasonal, yearly rotation, as Jackson highlights in her book. I will spend hours, days, and even weeks in a state of prayer, scripture study, or worship, and come out renewed, strengthened and restored.
No single day looks like the next for me, especially as someone with debilitating chronic illness. One day I might be too ill to open my eyes, and the next I might be able to spend a few moments outside with my children. Life situations force me to be more flexible with my schedule as well, making a daily routine of scripture study and prayer nearly impossible. Until I read Jackson’s book, I lived in a sense of guilt for my inability to spend extended daily time in prayer and scripture study.
As I read Jackson’s words, I discovered that I have fallen victim to a lopsided view of Christianity, as my early years were filled with a stringent worship of piety and a pathetic neglect of manifesting the love of Christ in relationships with others. I had fallen into the sinkhole of believing that spiritual disciplines, rather than Jesus Christ, were the answer to my brokenness. I had lived in a spirit of pharisaical legalism and missed the actual relationship that Jesus desires to cultivate within us. My practice of piety produced arrogance and a sense of elitism rather than the actual fruit of the Spirit, and therefore made no positive difference in my life. In fact, I bore it like an over-bearing heavy yoke, and not the one that Jesus offers to share with us.
Jackson masterfully holds the tension of honoring spiritual disciplines and acts of piety while also allowing space for readers to step into the freedom from slavery to those spiritual practices. She beautifully shares both the grace and the truth of the love of God by allowing believers to step into identity as accepted and welcomed sons and daughters of God and then calling those believers into intentional growth and transformation.
I believe that Jackson’s book and her message are vital to the spiritual growth and global impact of today’s church. I also agree with Jackson that we each need to evaluate not only our own person life rhythm but also if we are worshipping Jesus or the doctrine of personal piety. I appreciate that Jackson creates space for us to see ourselves as unique and individual, while also created in the perfect image of Christ, and that she offers the chance for us to imagine what growth in Christ-likeness might uniquely look like for each of us.
I would like to better understand the different types of individuals and personal life-rhythms as I felt that I could fall into each category during different seasons of life, or even on different days. While some people might easily classify themselves, I was left wondering what my life rhythm truly is and where I stand on my personal needs for spiritual disciplines. I sense that life rhythms might hold a bit more complexity than presented in Jackson’s book. I appreciate, however, that Jackson acknowledges the complexity of each individual, and I am compelled to study human personality types models more deeply in order to more fully understand my life-rhythm.
Overall, Jackson’s book profoundly impacted my understanding of God, allowing for grace and freedom in the light of the truth of Christ found in the Word of God. I believe that as I am set free from unrealistic expectations that don’t fit with my individual personality, I will better be able to grow more fully into the character of Christ. Unforced Rhythms is bound to impact individuals profoundly and deeply, empowering us to live more fully into the character of Christ, uniquely manifested through each of our beautiful personalities.