Moving With the Rhythm
Stacey and I were recently daydreaming about what we would do if our time was our own. Stacey’s ultimate luxury would be to take a nap whenever she wanted to. I’m not sure what I would do, but lots of things come to mind as possibilities, such as being able to catch the light-rail downtown for a minor league baseball game.
Obviously, the fact that Portland lost its minor league team this year is not the only reason this daydream doesn’t become reality. Being responsible to four other people changes things.
Stacey and I do like to explore Portland’s robust culinary scene, but doing so takes an act of Congress, what with arranging schedules and babysitters and reservations. One or both of us is regularly out of the house in the evenings, anyway, to meet with students for our campus ministry duties. Being out of the house too much, at some point, just becomes undesirable.
There is a nebulous and undefined “rhythm” to family life that very much shapes the way we connect and relate to one another as a family. This rhythm comes from simply sharing life together. We don’t have to be active outside of the house doing things together, or even deliberately spending quality time together—the rhythm comes from simply being together as a day unfolds. It gives each of us, including the kids, a feeling of normalcy and a sense of connection and familiarity with one another.
When that rhythm gets thrown off, we tend to feel out of step, like we’re dancing out of time with a tune. We can go through the same motions, but things are just not “clicking.” Being out of rhythm is stressful because it can cause miscommunication. When we’re not regularly in each other’s presence, it is easier to mistake tone or intentions.
When we’re not sharing life together, I tend to experience life in my own head because I’m an introvert. I have to shift gears when we come together again to get used to giving communication and connecting with the family as we move through the day.
It is just this constant invitation to give that I appreciate about family life. Sure, life would be easier on my own—I wouldn’t be responsible to anyone else and I could spend my afternoons sitting off the third base line with a microbrew in my right hand and a mitt on my left.
I don’t like the kind of person that I would become in such a scenario, though. The give and take of family life keeps me limber and flexible and fresh, even if I’m losing sleep because of sick kids, or missing interesting concerts to watch an animated movie with the family. I fear becoming a person who gets just what he wants. There is no love without sacrifice, and this kind of self-giving love is the only source of lasting meaning in life.
The danger for me when we fall out of rhythm with one another is that I start to become the man who seeks only what he wants. I depend on the regular rhythm of family life to keep me anchored to love.
This rhythm is not unlike the rhythm of monastic life. Stacey and I try to take a week in the summer break for a personal retreat and we enjoy spending that time at a local monastery. The monks are hospitable and it is very easy to step into the rhythm of a monastery, which is based on prayer. That structure makes us feel at home because we’re in the flow of the community.
The rhythm of life in a family is not based on prayer like a monastery. I think it is based on routines of love: pancakes on Saturday morning, playing in the pool during open swim on Fridays, cleaning on Tuesdays, laundry day, play after school, reading in the evenings, setting and clearing the dinner table, bathtime and night prayers. All of these routines foster connection and are opportunities to connect or serve one another.
We’ve come to the conclusion that we can handle busy weeks if we have weekend time together to fall back into a family rhythm. Likewise, we can handle busy weekends if we have evenings in the week to ourselves. Because rhythm is such a nebulous dynamic to identify, it is not easy to plan for or protect. Events always compete for time and it is not easy to choose against an opportunity just to do the same old thing at home. But if we don’t do enough of the same old thing together, we lose our rhythm and find ourselves dancing out of step.
Some day, when I’m old and gray, Stacey and I will spend some days at the ballpark. Maybe we’ll even be able to bring a grandchild along.