Three years ago, our family headed to a News-boys concert at the Minnesota State Fair. After finding our seats, Davis, our six-year-old, said, "Dad, I gotta go to the bathroom." They scrambled down bleachers, waited in line, and within minutes were back cheering along with everyone else. Twenty minutes later, Davis needed another bathroom trip. Then another. Seven trips later, my frustrated husband and I shook our heads. What was going on?
Dr. Brown delivered the diagnosis two weeks later: "Your son has juvenile diabetes."
In the weeks following this diagnosis, I felt too overwhelmed to have my quiet time with God. While I'd always made a daily effort to meet with him, suddenly my reality didn't cooperate with 30-minute or 15-minute devotional time slots. I have to be more disciplined, I told myself. When I triedand failedI felt guilty.
I wasn't alone in this struggle. After the birth of her son Seth and then Caden, my coworker Sara was too tired to have daily devotions. The words "Your daughter has terminal cancer" shattered my friend Carol's routine dates with God. And chaos moved in when my sister-in-law Erin's landlord said, "You have ten days to move out."
We've heard it a million times: Daily devotions are the key to a growing relationship with God. So what do we do when crises and the ordinary craziness of life make quiet times impossible? The answer, I've discovered, involves five important questions.
Too often we harbor a picture of God tapping his foot and muttering, "I'm wait-ing. Why aren't you spending more time with me?" However, the real God hears the screaming deadlines, smells the dirty laundry, sees our paycheck amount, and enters our reality. As we care for an elderly parent or struggle in a marriage, God says, "Here I am. I thought you could use some grace today."
Shortly after Davis's diagnosis, I wandered the grocery store, overwhelmed by the thought of measuring and timing meals and insulin. Somewhere near the Ragu, it hit me: All the medical expertise and latest technology combined can't replace God's design for one small pancreas. We're wonderfully made. God loves my family. Why else would he craft our bodies with such care?
That revelation of God's love came between the pasta and the Prego, not through a formal quiet time. When I couldn't go to God, he brought his love to me in the grocery store aisle.
More than 2,000 years ago, God stepped into human reality to become a burping baby, a sweaty boy, a working man. Today he still invades our realitywith grace.
Ask yourself: How does God's grace meet me here?
The Role of Discipline
Grace doesn't wipe out responsibility or encourage indifference, however. Prayer and Bible reading often require discipline. Last winter, I woke up around 2 A.M., knowing God had something to say to me. I didn't feel like rolling out of bed that cold Minnesota morning, yet as I sat wrapped in a blanket in the living room, God and I had a fabulous conversation.
The disciplines of prayer and reading God's Word are the means to find the grace God extends us, not an end in themselves. Before Davis's diagnosis, the disciplines ruled. Now my relationship with them has shifted. They aren't the focus; God is. I'm freenot to ignore them, but to use them to seek God.
Scripture says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (). God doesn't stipulate a format; he stipulates a heart attitude.
Ask yourself: Is my goal simply to have personal devotions, or to know God?
Savoring the Season
God is a God of all seasons. The Creator of summer, autumn, winter, and spring designed marriage, singleness, parenthood, and the empty nest. No season looks the same. Time spent with God in different seasons won't, either.
For Nobue, a single career woman, devotional time means "hanging out" with God at a nearby prayer chapel and meditating on his love.
Patti's time with God is unpredictable. One morning she popped in a worship CD and began chopping vegetables for dinner. All she could think about was how much she missed her kids, missionaries in Romania. "I have an empty house, and with it comes the freedom to pray whenever I want," says Patti. So she set the knife down, went into the living room, and began to cry and pray.
Erin is at least 15 years away from an empty house. The mother of three seldom has time to sit and pray. Often God speaks to her through her kids.
"Elijah, my five-year-old, usually prays the same prayer every day: 'Thank you, God, for this food. Amen.' One day Elijah added, 'Thank you, God, for my family and my house.' We'd recently moved to an affordable but ugly house. I knew God was prompting me to have a thankful heart." As a result of her five-year-old's prayer, Erin chose to be thankful even when she didn't feel like it.
Nobue's way of meeting God isn't better than Patti's or Erin's.
Ask yourself: What does communicating with God look like in this season of my life?
Follow Your Path
Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Pathways, explains that God places in each person unique ways of drawing near to him. A naturalist loves God best when she's outdoors; a caregiver worships God by serving soup at a homeless shelter.
Discovering one's pathway begins with a simple question: How do you enjoy spending time with God? Become aware of when he speaks to you. Step outside what you've always thought to be the "right" way to meet God. Try new ways and places of talking with him and find what fits you.
Knowing God's pathway doesn't prevent obstacles from popping up, however. Yet obstacles stretch us to communicate in other ways.
For several years, my husband and I hosted a family small group that included nine kids. Often we'd begin a conversation while changing a soggy diaper, continue while wiping up a spilled juice box, and conclude over a heap of Legos. Despite this, fantastic friendships were forged. Why should it be any different with our relationship with God?
My ideal date with God is curling up on the sofa early in the morning, Bible in hand. One recent Saturday morning, though, I raced out the door dragging a sleepy-eyed little boy to his early morning concert rehearsal. Instead of sitting on my sofa, I was plopped on a cold metal folding chair listening to a tapping baton.
"Children, rest. Rest!" the conductor gently scolded. "When will you remember the rests?"
Rest a time away from my agitation and anxiety. Have a quiet heart, Carol, I heard God say. I'd let my fast pace crowd out his quiet voice. In that instant, the very thing I thought was an impediment to an early morning date with God became a powerful encounter with him.
Ask yourself: What do I perceive as an obstacle to time alone with God? How can God transform it into an encounter with him?
Practicing His Presence
God's presence fills the world he created: "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" (). For years I believed reaching God depended on my ability to perform various contortions with my schedule. In reality, prayer is becoming aware of God's presence wherever I am. And he can speak anytime, anywhere.
Anywhere might be on the way to work. "Sometimes I climb in the car, and I'm not even thinking about God," says my sister-in-law Erin. "Suddenly I realize he's there with me." Anywhere might be in the kitchen. My friend Cathleen talks with God while washing dishes to the tune of squealing boys. Or, anywhere can be lying in bed at night, away from daytime distractions.
Ask yourself: Am I aware of God's presence? When he speaks, am I listening?
I still love to read the Bible. I still pray. But life, with an active family and countless demands on my time, still intrudes. So the discipline I'm learning to acquire now isn't so much setting aside daily quiet time as becoming aware of God's presence all the time. I've left a quiet time myth behind and embraced a wonderful God.
Carol Garborg is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Minnesota.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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