We often hear about the need to have an active prayer life. We read about Jesus calling his disciples to prayer and solitude as the way to recharge their spiritual batteries. Jesus himself often withdrew from the craziness of crowded streets in order to spend some time in communion with this Heavenly Father. While we internally accept that this is important to our spiritual health, we often find ourselves having trouble cultivating such spaces in our lives.
I was recently involved in a conversation about this sense of frantic ‘muchness’ that so often characterizes our lives. Each person in the conversation echoed the feeling of being overwhelmed amid the many things that must be dealt with throughout the day, week, month and year; There is always a project to tackle, or a demand to be met, or a schedule to keep. Nary, it seems, is there ever any time for the cultivation of quiet spaces of reflection and re-creation.
When asked about the solution to the frantic busyness of life, someone in the conversation responded “Retirement!”, only to have such a notion negated by the retired individuals in the group – who often find themselves as busy, if not busier, than before. It almost seemed as if we are condemned to an endless cycle of things baring down upon us, as if life is a merry-go-round of crowded tasks and endless to-do lists. These feelings of leave us viewing the call to prayer or solitude as yet another demand on our time – just one more thing which we need to juggle. The act of spending 5 minutes in prayer, Bible-study, or even just sitting in God’s presence as we enjoy the morning coffee, is viewed as nothing more than a spiritual task in the midst of an already too full schedule. In this cluttered-up ride that we know as daily living, it is simply just another thing on the pile.
Might I suggest that this is not the way we should look at our spiritual lives. The ‘activities’ we do as expressions of our faith are not items to be juggled in our calendar; to be slotted in or out wherever it is convenient. If life is viewed as an out-of control ride, constantly speeding in every direction, the activity of prayer and solitude is not something added to the ride; it is a way we can get off the ride. It is an activity that actually removes us from the constant pressure felt under our many demands. Through the cultivation of daily times of prayer, quietness, and solitude we step away from the frenetic rat race that says there always something ‘else’ that demands our attention and our time.
Why not try this: For the next month (yes I know that it will be December – which is why it would be a really good time to attempt this), try to spend 5 minutes in quietness in the morning. Sit by yourself. Talk to know one other than The Lord. Do not spend the time reading, checking email, or planning the tasks of the day. Do not engage in any activity at all – just sit. Pray silently if you wish, but try to spend more time listening than silently talking. Martin Luther is famous for remarking that he had so many things to do during his day that he had to spend three hours in prayer each morning. I’m not advocating three hours, just five minutes.
Now here’s the catch. If you try to ‘schedule ‘ this period of silence in the morning, I bet you will find that things will begin to crowd in. If you see it as a demanded activity, you will begin to skip its observance. There will be times where you zip past this time of morning quiet and prayer out of a falsely perceived ‘need’ to move onto something else. That is how this fast-pace culture of do-more, buy-more, have-more tries to make us feel, and frankly it has gotten pretty good at it. If there is always something more to buy, then that which we have will never be enough, and if there is always something more to do then we are never actually present in this moment. So don’t make it just another item of ‘more’. You don’t need to schedule it, just remember it. Simply hear the call of Jesus whereby he invites you to stop, to refrain from action, to “Come away with me.”
There is a famous Broadway play called ‘Stop the world I want to get off.” The simple truth of scripture is that there is a way to get off the ride and out of that rat-race; you can stop. You can be in solitude with your Lord and the world will not implode around you. In fact, you will find that you will be able to step outside the rat-race of life with more ease and confidence than before. When the time comes, and it will, for you to address the tasks, demands and activities that are part of normal life, you will find that you will be able to do so with a peace that this world cannot give and a quiet rootedness that is found in having our lives centred in Christ’s grace and love.
See, if we see our solitude, or our prayers as yet another ‘thing’, then we will engage in these times only looking for the end. We will rush through them hoping to get our prayers done as quickly as possible so we can move on to more important matters. And as we move onto the other events of the day, that time of quiet and prayer will be left behind. Yet the beauty of prayer and solitude is that they are never demands to be done and then discarded; they are the way we live our lives centred and rooted in the presence of Jesus, and though, after our 5 minutes, we may rise to greet the day in all its panting feverishness, the spirit of quiet rest in Jesus our Lord will continue to go with us.