A Trellis for Life

Freda Howell McMahon   |   April 1, 2019 

Recently, a fellow home schooling mom asked me if I was the type of person who needed to check off every item on her list. “No,” I replied. “I am the type of person who needs to make a list.” I look with awe struck wonder at super organised people, desperate for membership into this elite club, and yet the thought of rules makes me feel like I am trapped in a dark elevator with no help in sight.

‘Rule,’ the very word leaves a bitter aftertaste on my tongue. But might it be that I and maybe you too (unless you're a part of the elite club?!) have misunderstood the word ‘rule?’ After all, good things do happen when you follow rules, such as, the miracle of a delicious cake when you follow your favourite recipe. Another group of people who probably do not indulge in chocolate cake all that much, know full well the value of rules, in fact, they follow a rule of life!

Monks adopt a rule of life so that they can enjoy communion with God all through the day, not just while in prayer, but as they go about their daily chores, be it pruning the garden, or stirring a pot of soup. Adopting a rule of life for them means that they commune with God not just while on bended knee, but rather, all through the day as they engage in seemingly mundane activities, such as cooking or gardening. Embracing a rhythm in all areas of life enhances their spiritual growth.

The word rule is derived from a Latin word which means trellis. If you have ever been to a vineyard you would have seen a trellis; the structure which supports a vine, helping it flourish through adequate sunlight and easy pruning, hence creating a rich harvest. In a similar way, a rule of life for us would mean adopting a trellis which helps us receive light from God, gives Him the freedom to prune us and in turn our life bears much fruit making our character increasingly like Christ’s. Now this doesn’t mean that we have to turn on the fruit bearing mode in our life. No, it is through remaining in Christ that we bear fruit; He does the work. However, we do have a role to play; we make ourselves available through a rule of life, through supporting our lives on a trellis.

Author, Ken Shigematsu, teaches that any practice which is a suitable trellis in our life, will create a feeling of ‘I get to’ and not ‘I have to.’ Imagine a great grape vine resting on a trellis. Will it be overcome with regret over having to grow well or rather be full of cheer and gratitude that it gets the life giving support it needs? In the same way, any helpful rule of life we embrace will leave us feeling thankful for the practice and not like we are wearing an ill fitting shoe.

My husband and I have been trying to be intentional about setting rhythms for our family and for us individually. Part of our rhythm includes a family trip to the beach every Wednesday. We live in Goa and one would imagine we constantly frequent the beach but nothing could be further from the truth. Since the last few months though, we have consciously decided to step away from work once a week and have a rest day at the beach; picking up shells, drawing lines in the sand and soaking in God’s beauty. When the pile of to-do’s keeps increasing, it is tempting to cancel beach day, but (for the most part) we go and we have never come away feeling like we wasted the day. I am increasingly realising that being enamoured by beauty in creation, makes me more enamoured with the Creator of beauty.

Another rhythm I have embraced is learning the keyboard. As a child I used to dash out the house the moment I saw my music teacher heading for our house, leaving my elder sister to be tortured. But now as an adult, I have dusted the same keyboard and started taking lessons from a skilled fourteen year old pianist. There are times when I question why I am practicing the keyboard when I could be being ‘more productive’ but I am learning to give myself space to do what I enjoy. It is a thrill to be able to play two songs from the hymnal! It is not selfish or wrong to pursue interests which you enjoy. God wants us to enjoy Him, enjoy His creation and enjoy His rest. My urge to escape from God’s grace still surfaces now and then, but I am learning to make myself more available to Him; to not run and hide, but let Him shine on me.

Do you have a trellis already set up for your life or are you like me, learning to embrace rules? What do you think are some rhythms that you could add to your life?


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Freda Howell McMahon

Freda McMahon lives in a little Goan village with her husband and two daughters. She is a counsellor by profession, a homeschooling mom, and in constant need of God’s grace. Dark chocolate with sea salt, good conversation and solitude are a few of her favourites.

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