For as long as I can remember, I've considered quiettimes one of the essential disciplines of the Christian life. As a child, I knew my pastor-father woke up before dawn every morning to retreat to his office, read his Bible, and pray. At the urging of my parents, I started my own version of quiettimes as a pre-schooler. While my brothers napped, I lined up my stuffed animals in front of my Bible and eventually, as I grew older, started reading the Bible myself, beginning with Genesis 1 and forging my way bravely ahead. In college, I was part of a Navigators campus ministry where the practice of daily quiettimes was emphasized and expected. If you were a good Christian, I came to believe, you had regular, preferably lengthy quiettimes which resulted in spiritual insights you could record in your journal and point to as a measure of God's presence and activity in your life.
Note: For those unfamiliar with evangelical subculture, "quiettime" is a word used to describe the daily time a Christian spends with God in prayer, worship, Bible reading, etc.
I haven't had more than a handful of quiettimes these past few months. Admitting this to the world makes me uncomfortable, and I want to spend the rest of this paragraph justifying my failures with a lengthy list of the resasons I've been too busy. But the fact is I've managed to check Facebook, take a shower, and read People magazine regularly during this time period; if I'd really wanted to spend a few minutes with God each day, I could have made the time.
For the record, I still think that quiettimes are a good and important practice, that reading Scripture and praying matter and can be used by God in powerful ways. In fact, I think they matter so much that my husband and I recently came up with a plan to get ourselves back on track in this area, a plan that involves discipline and a schedule and waking up earlier and the whole bit.
But I want to say too that I've learned something surprising these past few months in the midst of my undisciplined wandering: even without quiettimes, God speaks. It shouldn't be surprising really, probably isn't to many of you who understand grace a little bit better than I do. But for me, it's been so freeing.
I've long been taught that God's activity in our lives isn't dependent on our performance, but as the consummate achiever, I find that hard to truly believe. If it's indeed true that spending time with God is important to our Christian walk, I tend to think failure to do so will equal failed opportunities to hear God's voice and subsequent failure as a Christian.
And I'm sure that these past months, I have missed opportunities to hear from God and to grow. But the funny thing is I feel more aware of God's presence and activity in my life than I have in a long time. I can't tell you particular verses that have been meaningful to me lately or a specific prayer God has answered this month, but I can tell you this: I see God's hand all over my life, in places I haven't been able to see Him for a long time. I have renewed confidence that He has a good plan for me and that even when neither He Himself or His plan can be seen in the darkness, He's there all the same.
I still struggle with plenty of unanswered questions about those dark places, but the truth of God's presence in them is settled more deeply and firmly in my soul and, for me, that is real spiritual growth. And the fact that this growth didn't happen through discipline or plans or my own successes tells me I've been learning something else about God too.
He's bigger than me. He doesn't need me and my neat little systems for relating to Him. And He speaks, in spite of and even through my failures.