If I've heard it once, I've heard it hundreds of times: a morning prayer-time is the best way to start the day.
I’m not so sure about that.
Like a few weeks ago. We were on vacation, and I managed to make it to the beach for some time all by myself. Just my Bible, my journal, a good book, and me. Blue water in front of me, sand underneath me, and nothing but the sound of waves.
Quiet. Beauty. Scripture. Time to pray about my own concerns, and to pray for loved ones. Insight. Peace. All the ingredients for replenishing my soul, smoothing my rough edges, and giving me just what I need for the day ahead.
[Ironically, the insight was from James, my almost-least-favorite book of the Bible because it’s chock-full of advice that I can’t manage to fulfill for any length of time. Reading it almost always makes me feel like a failure. But—miraculously—not this morning.]
I drank in the quiet, along with the coffee I’d brought along. Savored this blessed collection of minutes that, together, added up to peace.
In Your presence, there is fullness of joy.
Refreshed, full, I gathered my things and headed back, planning to greet my still-sleeping family with whispered good mornings and forehead kisses.
Then I opened the door to our room.
One step inside reintroduced to me the unnecessarily-real world of a pre-caffeine daddy, sniping siblings, and general mid-vacation chaos, all magnified by the inexplicably loud tv commercial (Why are the ads so much louder than the program? Why is it on in the first place? Is anyone even watching it?)
Gone was refreshed-and-ready-for-the-day Mama. She was nowhere to be found. Instead, the woman standing in my shoes was the one I know all too well: the quickly-overwhelmed, edging-up-to-irritated Mama. Not who I wanted to be. Not who I expected to be, especially only 4 minutes after my beach time.
This tiny snatch of the real world drained all that joy right out of me. The peace went with it.
Where did they go?
Moments like this happen to me far more often than I’d like. In fact, were I to chart my post-prayer-time sense of wellbeing, the statistics would run directly in opposition to all those quiet-time devotionals that play in my head like unwanted infomercials.
Time with God: It’s so easy.
Get up earlier, spend more time in the Word,
pray more, make time for Him.
These easy steps are the cure for whatever ails you.
You too can have have every need met.
Your day will be remarkably smooth.
You’ll find yourself supernaturally and inexplicably prepared for every situation you face.
Your thighs will shrink.
Your clothes will be more flattering.
Your hamburgers will taste like filets.
You, too, can walk on water.
This unsettling phenomenon (my inability to extend the peace from my prayer-time into the other 23 hours of the day) has given me no small amount of anxiety: Why can’t I be like the good Christians they talk about at church? What am I doing wrong? Do I have some sort of spiritual defect? How come no one else talks about this sort of thing? Am I the only one?
Within a few seconds of re-entering what is my life, these all-too-familiar-and-unanswered questions flooded in. I fought the knee-jerk instinct to back slowly out of the room before anyone saw me. Return to my ocean-side perch.
Need. Less. Noise. Need. More. Peace.
Where. Is. God?
But it wasn’t to be. My kids and husband saw me. Plus, it was time to step back into the real-and-not-so-polished world that is my life. Whether I felt ready for it or not.
If I were the Quiet Time Poster Child, I would tell how God met me right there in the midst of all that unpleasantness. How I felt Him miraculously equipping me for what I faced. How I was filled with patience. How each word I spoke was gentle, kind, well-chosen. How there could be no other explanation than the God’s work in my heart.
I’m not that girl. The irritation I felt and—I’m sure—conveyed was over petty things. I definitely wasn’t in line to receive the spirit-filled-mom-of-the-day award.
Somewhere along the way, I think I’ve picked up some bad theology.
For one thing, I’ve come to expect all 24 hours of my day to feel like my prayer time. If I’m not navigating life with a sense of peace, then I’m doing something wrong.
I’ve also gotten the idea that God’s transforming work is supposed to resemble a bolt of lightning. I want to believe (perhaps because I’ve heard others describe it this way) that when I’m in the midst of a storm, He’ll make Himself known right then and there. That He’ll enter the situation with larger-than-life power and a startling flash of light. That I’ll be changed in an instant.
Maybe those things are true for some of His followers. I’ve certainly heard lots of testimonies from believers who have experienced abiding peace and instant transformation.
Most of the time, though, my spiritual life looks pretty different.
As I stood in the doorway of our room, I definitely wanted—no, I needed—one of those two supernatural interventions: I felt a desperate need for a new influx of peace, or for a lightning bolt transformation of my suddenly-disgruntled self.
It didn’t happen. At least, not right then.
But at the end of the day, I could recognize God’s provision. Not in an influx of good-natured-ness. Not in a miraculous change in my family’s behavior (so that it matched up perfectly with my unrealistic expectations).
No, God did His work in unexpected ways. The transformation came in surprising moments:
My daughter’s exuberance over the washcloths that a talented hotel-worker had shaped into swans;
My son’s excitement about shooting basketball from a pool that,
to me, seemed more overly-chlorinated than fun;
My husband encouraging me to take a nap and exercise;
The joyful discovery of learning how to catch mole-crabs and watch their gray-white bodies scuttle back into the wet sand;
An encouraging conversation with a woman I’d just met;
Unexpected fireworks from the balcony of a highrise that, a few hours before, I’d seen merely as a building
that blocked a beautiful ocean view.
No lightning bolt change-of-attitude. No supernatural sense of wellbeing to carry me through. Instead, God chose to meet my need by sprinkling the day with blessings.
Hour by hour, moment by moment. Requiring me to pause, to ask again, to expect, to hope.
Wait for the Lord’s help.
Be strong and brave,
and wait for the Lord’s help.