I want to give a bit of a disclaimer about this next bit I’m about to write….
It is part of my story, my journey. It doesn’t necessarily have to be part of yours. In other words, by sharing what I’ve been going through and the conclusions I’m coming to, I’m not suggesting that this is how it ought to be for everyone. Just sharing, that’s all.
I grew up in a family that placed a high value on a daily “quiet time”–or some of you might call it, “personal devotions” or “prayer time”. It was understood that before you got going with your day, you would take some time to pray and read your Bible. If you didn’t, it was understood that things just wouldn’t go right that day–or at least, you wouldn’t want to make a habit of skipping it often.
As an adult, I understand that the purpose of this “rule” was simply to build good discipleship habits. As a child who longed to please…it might as well have been written into the canon of Scripture. (It isn’t, you know–you DO know that, don’t you?) It was so ingrained into me that I felt like it was a sin not to have my quiet time, like I might miss the rapture or something. (I related quite a bit to Brant’s post
from a few days ago.) And even after I made it to adulthood a few
years ago, and I could rationalize it differently, I still felt somewhat unclean if I didn’t have that quiet time.
Never mind that all through my “quiet time”, my mind would wander terribly and I would waste hours at a time daydreaming, or that I remembered almost nothing of what I read in the Bible. Never mind the fact that The Wild One
regularly acted more like Jesus than I did–without having a regular structured “quiet time” every day. If I had that quiet time, I felt “okay”, and if I didn’t–I didn’t.
Until finally I came to the point where my religion failed me.
I’ll spare the details for another blog entry, but for now, suffice it to say I was in an extended time of trial, and working all the spiritual formulas I knew to turn things around–all to no avail. And I came to a place where I had nothing left, and I got very, very real with God. All I could do was to throw myself upon Him, admit to myself that I didn’t know anything about real trust, and ask Him to teach me.
It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My religion failed me, and I am now living on what is left.
So after that experience, I found myself at a crossroads. I would come to my “quiet time” in the mornings, and find I had nothing to say and no interest at all. It was a little scary because I was a pastor, and it felt a bit like backsliding. I honestly felt like all my praying and contending had done me no good; the only thing that had worked in my situation was letting go. So why go through the motions anymore? That was when I realized that’s exactly what this “quiet time” had been all those years–going through the motions. I didn’t want to do that anymore; whatever my faith looked like from now on, I wanted it to be real. Again, I asked the Lord to show me.
And this is where I have to say, this is my journey, not yours. I gave myself permission not to have a set quiet time. I didn’t give myself permission to walk away from God (and I didn’t); I just gave myself permission to relax. And in that decision, I found a sense of rest for the first time in nearly 30 years of being a Christian. I was free now to start over, to learn all over again what true discipleship would look like for me.
I am a work in progress, but this is what my devotional life looks like now, since I made that decision…
- I pray, but not at a set time, or for a set time period. I pray as I go through my day, as I’m driving, while I’m working out. I involve God in my internal conversations, constantly aware of His presence. And I pray in a more focused manner when there is a need to do so. I do not pressure myself to intercede and travail if I don’t feel it.
- I don’t read my Bible every day. (GASP!) But I do still read it.
- I traded my “prayer closet” for new scenery. I used to hole up in my living room in the mornings; now I go to the gym, and then to a local restaurant or coffee shop to read and study, whether it be the Bible or whatever piece of nonfiction I’m working through at the time. Or lately… I use that time to write in this blog. A lot of what you read here is coming straight out of my new-and-improved “quiet times.” (I’m letting you into my prayer closet–don’t you feel privileged??)
I grew up believing that all that time of pressing in, praying hard, and diligent study would keep me close to God and make me more like Jesus. (Remember the Sunday school song? “Read your Bible, pray every day…and you’ll grow, grow, grow.”) But since I’ve deconstructed my quiet time, an amazing thing has happened–or, hasn’t happened. I haven’t backslid. In fact, I feel like I love Jesus more, because I no longer feel imprisoned or held hostage by my religious expectations. I am much more relaxed, much less anal (can I say that?), and overall much happier in the journey.
I still believe there is a time/place for fervent prayer and diligent study. That’s all still in the Bible. I just believe that for my own journey, God has given me a time of respite, because all of it was based on religion and not true discipleship. The truth is…I need to rest. 🙂 What did Jesus say? “My yoke is easy, My burden is light.” That’s the only burden I want to carry these days.
Interestingly, and strictly by coincidence, Steve over at Emergent Kiwi has written along a similar line with regard to reading the Bible. Leave me your thoughts about all this in the comments, then go check him out.
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