Forgive me if this seems “rambly.” I am writing mostly to sort out some possibly profound thoughts I was having on this topic the other day. Hopefully someone else will find my thoughts helpful and insightful as well…
Growing up evangelical [and still somewhat clinging to that label, if I must have a label for my relationship with God!], the importance of daily prayer and Bible study was emphasized. And mostly, we were encouraged to get up an hour earlier than normal in the morning and start our day with “quiet time” with God before doing anything else. I felt incredibly guilty when I would miss the mark in this area – and every year, I vowed to do better.
Mornings were not happening; I always figured that God deserved me at my best, and that was definitely not at 6am! I usually tried to carve out time before I went to bed, reading my chapter in the Bible and then rationalizing that I would turn the lights out, crawl into bed, and pray before drifting off to sleep. When I had something particularly heavy on my mind, I would journal. In case someone discovers my prayer journals after I am gone, let me go on record saying that I am generally a happy person – not nearly as much of a basket case as my written prayers make me seem…it’s just that intense situations require much concentration, and journaling is the only thing that keeps my mind focused and not wandering…
Anyway, so after spending my high school and college years in the “try hard/fail/give up” cycle of Bible reading, I finally got into sort of a rhythm once I started working full time. It was easy when my schedule was the same thing every day; I could just make it part of my daily routine.
Then…I became a children’s pastor. I started out as a bivocational pastor, which, I believe translated from the original Greek means, “no days off, ever.” I will confess that there were times when I pulled the whole “double duty” trick, in which I tried to pass off my Bible reading and research for lesson and sermon prep as my time with God, Yes, I know they tell you over and over again at Bible college not to do this, but since I never actually attended Bible college, I did not have this pounded into brain like many of my other pastor friends. And I would venture to guess that even those who did attend Bible college fall into this pattern from time to time.
After becoming a full time children’s pastor [now I had one day off per week...progress!], I started to meet many people who seemed SO in tune with God, talking about the hours and hours they spent in God’s presence, never wanting to leave…learning about how if I want to really go to “higher levels” in my personal life and my ministry, I needed to carve out even MORE time than the miniscule one hour per day to spend with Him.
Being around such spiritual giants overwhelmed me. I would to to Saturday night prayer and feel completely tongue-tied and inadequate [only later realizing that it was my introverted personality and stoic Scandinavian heritage that made me feel that way...not necessarily my relationship with God].
During this time, I also entered therapy and we talked a lot about my tendency to want to “perform” and gain approval. The first step in breaking this was realizing that I do not have to work like a dog to gain God’s approval. He created me. He loves me. He is happy to spend time with me, period – and is not keeping some sort of log in which He angrily writes “fail” for any day that I don’t spend an uninterrupted hour in prayer and Bible study.
After leaving church staff ministry, I quit “quiet time.” Cold turkey. I think I wanted to test to see if God would still love me and provide for me, even if I didn’t give in to the demands of having a daily time in which I read a chapter or two from the Bible and then prayed according to the ACTS model [that's adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication - in that order!]. I still prayed. I still went to church. I just nixed the systematic quiet time.
No lightning bolts.
But each day that I went without…something…I found it just a little bit easier to go without again the next day. It started to scare me how completely “independent” I was becoming. I want to be able to depend on Him, because I am, quite frankly, a poor substitute for the Almighty! And yet I was finding it easier and easier to not depend on God; to rationalize that I was doing okay without Him.
Until I started feeling the darkness….the depression…the anxiety…creeping in again. Part of it was the new job I had taken; one that I was not suited for and that I eventually quit – but I went back to spending large chunks of time with God in the morning. Praying. Journaling. Listening to the same worship songs over and over again, just to calm myself down enough to semi-function.
Once I resigned from the job from Hades and the burden lifted, I added one small detail back to my spiritual life: a daily devotional from a book written by a former colleague of mine. That was all. Just that, on a daily basis. Later, Patrick and I added the same “verse a day” app to our Smart Phones so that we could discuss the snippet of Scripture that was sent to us each day. Some days we don’t talk about it, but we know that the other one is receiving the same bit of God’s Word, at exactly the same time (9am each morning) and it is very often exactly what we need for that particular day.
And over the past few months, something strange has happened: my hunger for God has increased. I find myself looking forward to church; to praise and worship sessions. I find myself more often turning to God when I am having a bad day.
I likened it to eating. I have fasted before. And the first couple of days of a fast are absolute torture. All you think about is food and the fact that you’re not getting any. You frantically sip water, thinking that maybe it will help. You experience headaches; jitters; irritability. But if you can make it past the first three days, your body gets used to going without food. Sure, you still want food…but your body is not screaming for it anymore. It’s easier to ignore the need for it. People who develop eating disorders have done a thorough job convincing themselves both mentally and physiologically that they no longer need to eat food.
On the other hand, if you have a healthy attitude towards food, you eat “normally” most of the time. PB&J for lunch; a bowl of cereal for breakfast. And so on. If you’re like my husband and me, you reserve one day every week or so for a fabulous meal out [I just partook of flat bread with goat cheese and figs drizzled in maple syrup...heavenly!], and we look forward to that time.
But delicious gourmet meals do not sustain me; they are extra. An added bonus for someone who is already feeding themselves on a regular basis.
So…spiritually…Sunday mornings should be that bonus; that time each week that we look forward to as extra special time with God; not the only time we ever bother to acknowledge Him.
And I have found that when I am steadily feeding myself each day – even small amounts – I do look forward to that time. Every meal is not a gourmet experience; every session with God is not necessarily going to be a profound “God is speaking to me” experience. But the ordinary is necessary in order to get to the extraordinary.
To experience hunger, we have to eat.