“Musick has Charms to soothe a savage Breast, to soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.” ~William Congreve, The Mourning Bride
Music moves. It flows, lilts, rises in crescendo, and fades in decrescendo. It moves quickly, then slows, then resumes it’s original tempo. Behind all of this is a steady, constant, predictable beat–a rhythm.
Have you ever watched someone move to music, but not to the beat?
I felt Mr. Holland’s frustration as his students just couldn’t seem to find the beat in the movie: “Mr. Holland’s Opus”.
Just as there is a rhythm to music, there is rhythm found in the world around us: day turns to night, the tide rises and falls, the seasons change predictably as the year progresses, and the cycle repeats. Hearts beat, pendulums swing, light and sound is produced by waves, the moon changes with each phase of its cycle, the planets move through their orbits.
With these and countless other natural phenomena as the backdrop, our lives have a rhythm to them as well. We live by and create patterns of living on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis–we wake each day and carry out specific tasks; we have activities that repeat on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. It creates a predictable structure by which we can live our lives.
Sometimes the rhythm changes. There is nothing so constant as change, right? It can be difficult to figure out a new rhythm.
Years ago, when my (then) two children were 5 and 2, I established a rhythm, a pattern of early morning scripture study. I loved it! I woke around six, and spent the next hour in blissful silence, praying, pondering, and studying the word of God. My faith increased, my understanding increased, and I loved the quiet solitude.
A year or so later, the rhythm of scripture study that I had established necessarily changed when my third daughter was born. I finally settled into a different rhythm for my morning study. She woke at 5 a.m. to nurse, and as she did, I would read. I put her back to bed at 5:30, then readied myself to go to the gym with friends. It was an exhausting rhythm that had me asleep by 8 p.m., but for a time, it worked.
I’m in the middle of another rhythm now: five kids, the oldest is 16, and the youngest is 3. There are specific needs and demands upon my time for each of my children, but the oldest and youngest seem to be the most at odds. I’m having difficulty figuring this rhythm out. It feels very much like I’m trying to sing both the melody and the harmony of a song, as well as the counterpoint.
It’s really easy for me to look longingly back at the blissful mornings of quiet study while my two young daughters slept, but doing that only makes this particular rhythm even harder to figure out. Not only that, but in wishing it were somehow different, I end up missing the beauty of this rhythm, of life right now.
Life’s ups and downs are a part of the rhythm. Things are really good for a time, and then they aren’t so good, but only for a time. Things pick back up again. Sometimes the bad days stretch to bad weeks or months or years, but even within a day, some things are good, and some things are less than good. The trick is to see the good, and continually look for the good. There are good moments, even within a bad day, that we can recognize and cling to with hope and faith as we await the next beautiful moment.
Imagine for a moment a roller coaster. The ups and downs of a roller coaster are what make the ride exciting and even enjoyable! Could you imagine boarding a roller coaster, riding the car to the top of the first hill, and then having the ride stop so you could disembark? Where is the fun, the thrill in that? Everything exciting that you had hoped to experience is cut off without experiencing the downs as well as the ups. (Isn’t it funny that people who enjoy roller coasters like the decent–the “downs”– better than the ups?)
When we finally figure out how we fit into the rhythm going on all around us, life becomes easier. It feels better. We know our place.
I find even greater comfort in the fact that the rhythm of life is all part of the plan. The “downs” of life aren’t just happenstance. They are necessary. As the saying goes, “The darkest hour is just before dawn.”
Mortality is part of an eternal journey. During this period of life, we have amazing opportunities for growth. Often, the darkest, most difficult periods are periods of preparation, just prior to seasons of great growth.
One of my scripture heroes is Nephi, a prophet historian who left Jerusalem as a youth, and traveled with his family across the ocean to a promised land. After his father’s death, he became the leader of his people. But his life was not without strife. He had two older brothers who felt that the right of government should have fallen to them, and they wanted him dead. Eventually Nephi took any who would follow and separated from his brothers, and the two groups became enemies. But before this separation, and after his father’s death, he experiences a bit of depression, common to most of us:
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
I am encompassed about, because of the temptaions and the sins which do so easily beset me.
And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins… (2 Nephi 4:17-19)
Even the best of us have our down days.
But this is what I love about Nephi. He doesn’t stay there. Yes, he is weak. Yes, he gets angry. Yes, he is imperfect, and feels the burden of his sins. But even when that discouragement encompasses him, he remembers these truths:
My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. And by day have I waxed bold in might prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me… And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man… (2 Nephi 4:20-25)
Rhythm is the law by which we learn that nothing lasts forever. And when our troubles seem big and never-ending, we can improve our situation by looking for the next up.
O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited me in so much mercy, why should my hear week and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?…
Awake my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. (2 Nephi 4:26, 28)
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