The formula had been pressed into my brain as a young child:
Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.
It sounds simple enough, but it hasn’t always been simple for me.
Growing up in evangelical Christianity, I tried hard to get into a routine of daily devotions, or ‘quiet time.’ I knew the standard. Get up in the morning—Psalmist style—and spend at least 30 minutes reading Scripture and journaling. Then, spend time in prayer, checking off all the prayers on my list that had already been answered. This was the formula to deepen your walk with God. To do this was to be a ‘good Christian.’ To please God, and make Him happy.
This was the standard to which I felt I was held. By church. By youth group. By the Christian youth culture that stood around flag poles and held sword drills. By myself.
I chased after this ideal, but could never seem to catch it. I was always out of step with the expected rhythm. My prayer list remained unchecked. My journal insights were too shallow, and my Bible not sufficiently highlighted.
God must be so disappointed in me.
Did I not love God enough to give Him thirty minutes?
As a young married woman, I worked full time while partnering in ministry with my youth pastor husband. Running at such a busy pace, I was operating from a depleted space, struggling to find the time to stop and be quiet in the Lord’s presence. I loved the Lord, but getting up extra early to spend time in His word just didn’t come naturally for me—especially when I was already so tired.
Why couldn’t I be better at sticking with a daily devotional? I knew how crucial time with my Savior was. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.
One day, an older woman, who herself, loved Jesus deeply, gave me this sound advice:
“There’s one room of the house you visit every day and sit in peace.” She shared with me that she’d had a copy of Oswald Chambers’ ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ sitting on the back of her toilet for years.
I immediately went home and set my copy in the same space.
It was then that I began to think a little more freely and creatively regarding my time with the Lord. Maybe there wasn’t a right or a wrong way to spend time with Him.
Time and motherhood have shown me that while we lived a busy life back then, I didn’t really know what busy meant until I had a toddler underfoot. As my two-year-old son so eloquently put it, sitting on the edge of the bathtub while I was trying to have my, ahem, quiet time,
“I will have some privacy with you.”
There was no time. There was no quiet. There was no quiet time. How can we have a ‘quiet time’ when our world is anything but quiet?
My son deserved a mother that spent time in God’s word before he woke up. A mother fully fueled on coffee and the Word of God long before the pitter patter of footie pajamas came down the hall.
But here’s the thing I am learning:
Our God cannot and will not be divided into 30-minute increments.
LETTING GO OF THE FORMULA
God is in constant motion. He never sleeps. He is always working things out for our good. He flows around us, and through us, all at once roaring loudly and quietly whispering. There is nothing that can contain Him. Time does not exist in his presence.
How dare we try to impose such neat and tidiness on the wild mystery that is God. The Christian faith has been anything but tidy. Any habit or routine of sitting with Jesus must stem out of a craving for His presence, not out of superficial legalism, or self-imposed ‘shoulds.’ We cannot reduce the greatest love story of all time to a formula. We cannot impose a structure on the Creator of the universe.
As a young mother, He called me to let go of the expectation or the ideal—to simply come, and spend time with Him. I entered into a season where I would squeeze in my time with Jesus during the 10 minutes of ‘Elmo’s World.’ Sometimes I would hold my son on my lap and continue to be with Jesus. It didn’t always work. At times the distractions won out.
I continued in this pattern when I had my daughter. Sitting with Jesus with my music, my journal, and my Bible, as my children were awake and nearby. While my old journals contain prayers and pleadings to my Heavenly Father, they also contain scribbles from my children. Even my Bible wears the pen marks of a child emulating their mama’s note-making.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was precious. It is good for my children to see me sit with Jesus.
A new facet of my relationship with Christ emerged. One that was reflexive and organic, where praying without ceasing began to happen without trying.
Maybe this is abiding. Maybe in the swirling of branches, I had finally found the vine.
I don’t think God has ever meant for us to try so hard. Instead, we must honor the season we are in and the wiring with which our Creator has uniquely formed us.
There have been times in my life when prayer and Bible Study have been impossibly painful. When a neat and tidy check-list contrasted revoltingly with my pain. In those days, prayerful, one-word utterances reached the ear of my Heavenly Father. There was a season that I could not find my own words to pray at all, so I prayed the Lord’s prayer over and over and over again.
I have done in-depth Bible Studies with the multi-color highlighting and extensive note-taking. I have also swum the depths of Scripture written on post-it notes. I have worn ink on my palm that faded and smudged as I ruminated on small but potent words.
John Wesley’s mother, Susanna, raised ten children, including John. It is said that she spent roughly two hours every day with her kitchen apron flipped up over her head, in prayer. For me, I have found it helpful to have a set-aside space where I sit with Jesus. A tangible space where I can quickly enter into His presence.
I have gone from having a “Jesus chair,” to having a whole “Jesus room” (my children’s nickname for my living room).
“Where are your shoes?”
“They’re in the Jesus room.”
But Jesus doesn’t stay in the Jesus room. He will expand past any borders you try to put on Him. I find myself in His presence while I’m in my minivan, and as I wait for the school bus. I have worshipped my face off while rocking my baby in the hush of her nursery. I have meditated on Scripture over the kitchen sink. And I find myself wanting more—more of His presence. A larger apron.
The ordinary can so easily become sacred for anyone who loves the Savior.
I hope someday to finally fall into the rhythm of daily quiet time. In the meantime, I will live in freedom. I will adapt to the season I am in. I will be gentle and gracious with myself.
My hope is that my children will understand the importance of breathing in God’s presence. Of sitting at His feet. Of making room for quiet. In a chair. In a room. I hope they have a daily quiet time. I really do. But I also hope they live unbound as they see God at work in a world that never stops spinning. May they see that the Spirit that hovered over the waters is still bursting forth in creation—orchestrating, teaching, refusing to be confined by time or space or rules or expectations.
In Him, we are no longer bound by ‘should.’ There is freedom in how we spend time with Him. In His vastness, He has eliminated any space left for shame. Grace speaks to shame saying, “no, she isn’t enough. But, I AM.” Learning to abide in the vine is a willingness to just be while recognizing our identity as one made in His image. When we grasp that life isn’t about who we are and what we do, but rather who He is and what He has done, we will find that shame no longer has a voice because we are in the presence of true freedom.
And so, as those that love Him, we can simply go to Him, forgetting the constraints of space and time and life. We can dive freely into the roar of the quiet with the One who has no beginning and no end. The One who whispers, “Come to me. Abide with me.”
No matter what it may look like.
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