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Modern Reformation: Thinking Theologically

“Rhythms of Renewal” by Rebekah Lyons

Published Wednesday, April 21, 2021 By Elisabeth Bloechl

Stress and anxiety steal our joy and blind us to our purpose. In 2019, Rebekah Lyons offered a solution through her book Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose. Recently, she came out with a companion journal and planner. As the book offers practical and measurable solutions to stress and anxiety, I don’t doubt both have been and will be well received. That is why I am writing about her book now, two years after its publication. I want to offer a word of caution.

The plan she outlines in her book is simple and practical and personally tested. She posits that in order to live a life of peace, purpose, excitement and engagement we need to implement four rhythms. Rest. Restore. Connect. Create. The first two are input rhythms: we must receive before we can give. The third and fourth are output rhythms which are a natural outworking of the first two. Lyons fills her book with practical steps for how to live in—and out of—these rhythms. She gleans these guidelines from well-known authors, psychologists, scientific research and, occasionally, the Bible. Using herself as a model, she shows us how these rhythms look in action. If we follow her steps, she promises we will experience the same positive results she did.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in seven years on this road, a lesson that’s been confirmed by person after person I’ve spoken with, it’s this: with a little intention and a lot of perseverance, stress and anxiety can be transformed into peace and purpose. Boredom and depression can become excitement and engagement.

Her program sounds so hopeful, helpful and attainable. In many ways it is. She acknowledges that we are both spiritual and physical beings. As such, she gives us many practical ways to tend to our spirit and our body. She encourages us to do so with a view toward serving and loving others. As we are filled up, we ought to fill up others. (A refreshing change from the loop of self-care for the purpose of self-care which we find in many secular books.) And she reminds us through it all that we need the help of God and others.

However, despite its beneficial advice, Lyons book fails to acknowledge and incorporate the only real way to find peace and purpose—the gospel. For this reason, I believe her book has potential to lead many women from stress and anxiety into more stress and anxiety. For, without the gospel at center, we become the primary agents to our change. Without the gospel at center, it is we, not the Holy Spirit working in us, who enact change. Without the gospel, it is we who complete the work of sanctification. This is the very thing Paul chastised the Galatian church for in Galatians 3:1, 3. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” And this is the very thing that Lyons is asking us to do: complete the work Christ started in us. In so doing, she is both adding to and undermining the gospel, thereby laying a too heavy burden on the backs of her readers.

The driving force behind Lyons book is her desire that we don’t miss God’s best for us. By this she means, living out God’s unique plan for our lives (arguably, her definition of our sanctification). This plan involves living free from anxiety and stress. It involves chasing our dreams and feeling alive. It involves resting in God.[1] She claims that the only way to such a life is through asserting agency. “God promises to be our comforter and help. But we have to give Him an opportunity to do just that.” The implication is that if we don’t act, we may miss God’s very will for our lives. It is up to us to take the first step in solving our problems. Lyons claims that first step is practicing the rhythms of renewal. She writes, these simple rhythms “help us cultivate the spiritual and mental space needed to allow God to bring us through complacency and fear into freedom.” In other words, God is dependent on these four rhythms (which we implement) to work change in us. Or put another way, we have the ability to allow or bar God from giving us the full, fulfilled life He wants for us.[2]

Such thinking truncates the gospel. For, it limits Christ’s work to a one-time event that gives us a ticket to heaven but does not affect our daily life (unless we let it). It ignores one of the key implications of the gospel: the Holy Spirit’s continual work in us. And it makes God the co-pilot; we, the pilots. With this truncated gospel, in order to have a joyful life we need more than the cross and all it supplies.[3] We also need to practice four rhythms and all they involve. We must eat healthy, exercise regularly, have a regular date night, play, sleep, etc.

Now, I am not saying that a poor diet, lack of sleep, overwork don’t affect our spiritual life. My objection is not to the rhythms of renewal in themselves, but to Lyons making them into a law rather than a grace given by God. For, as laws, we need them in addition to the gospel and all it provides to complete our sanctification. As laws, the rhythms become a sort of savior in and of themselves. Consider the following quotes. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, and accountability and authenticity.”[4] “Pausing to take inventory has saved my life.” “Its play that so often restores our freedom and joy.” (All italics mine.) And if following these rhythms ensures our sanctification, as these quotes suggest, then we are really our ultimate savior. It is not surprising then, that even as Lyons downplays the power and implications of the gospel, so she downplays sin.

Lyons frequently uses words of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. She even calls us to daily confession before God. However, nowhere does she state that we are to confess our sins. At most, we are to confess our “dark patterns of behavior.” I don’t think that was by accident. Without sin, curing our anxiety and stress becomes a matter of following the right steps. We don’t need the constant help and work of the Holy Spirit in us. We are able to be the primary agents of change.

Having said all that, if we read Lyons book as a general self-help book, it has many beneficial ideas. It is very true that we need to rest, restore, connect and create. God made us spiritual and gave us a body. We must tend to both. When our body is healthy, it is much easier for our spirit to be, and visa versa. However, if we accept the underlying presuppositions that we are the primary agents of our sanctification (i.e. our living a fulfilled life), that we need the four rhythms to enact and continue that sanctification, and that our sin is not that serious, we will fall into error. This error will eventually lead to more stress and anxiety. We cannot take primary responsibility for our sanctification without feeling the weight of it. So, consider her suggestions, but consider them through the lens of scripture.

Elisabeth Bloechl is a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, house cleaner, and aspiring writer. She lives in Indiana with her husband and daughter.

[1] Notice that, for Lyons, glorifying God is not part of His plan for us. 

[2] While it is true that our sin does damage our relationship with God (Psalm 32:3-5, Proverbs 28:13, 1 John 1:9) it is not true that we have the ability to keep God from fulfilling His will in our lives. He who raised us from the dead (Ephesians 2:1), is able also work out the rest of His will in our lives, even as we—mysteriously—work with Him (Philippians 2:12).

[3] Galatians chapter 2 shows a similar progression from asserting agency to adding man-made laws.

[4] This is a citation of Brenè Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, and Lead

  • Elisabeth Bloechl

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