When we set out on journeys of faith and discovery, our underlying hope is that we would be transformed. Our worldview opens and we awaken to both the pain and beauty of the world. In some cases we begin to truly understand what it means to be loved by God. Yet, when the journey comes to an end and we re-enter our context, there are a number of traps that are lying in wait for us. In this series we will look at a handful of these "reentry traps," starting with one of the most foundational, the "every day" trap.
I've seen this trap come up almost like clockwork for people in reentry; and time and time again in my own life. We've returned. Everything around us feels both familiar and foreign all at once. In an effort to hold on to the transformation we have experienced, we set ourselves a goal in our intimacy with God, the fountain from which everything else springs. This goal usually includes the phrase "every day." For example:
"I'm going to have a quiet time for an hour at 7am every day."
"I'm going to read my bible for 30 mins every day."
"I'm going to go out and do ministry of some sort every day."
Let's be clear, there's nothing wrong with having discipline and daily habits. And I am certainly not against those things given as examples. We should all be working toward consistency and depth in our lives, especially in communion with God. The issue is that some paths can subtly draw us away from intimacy, rather than allowing us to be drawn in to the abounding love of God.
We set these goals with good intentions. Our sincere desire is to grow closer to the Lord; to pursue Him. But we often don't understand our own souls, or the true nature of spiritual disciplines. God created us in His likeness and His image. Our souls are precious to Him, and He pursues them relentlessly. Spiritual disciplines, in that light, are more about positioning ourselves to receive God's pursuit than to pursue Him. We are unable to force ourselves into God's presence. But there are practices - habits of devotion - that will take us to the utmost edge of our inability to get to God. It’s there that we sit, waiting for His grace to draw us, to take us to Himself.
What we also fail to take into account is that our souls are vast, wild, and unique. God created them so, and has designed each of us to commune with Him and be nurtured by Him in unique ways. If we ignore this, and keep striving at disciplines (or forms of a discipline) that don't align with our soul, we will find only dissatisfaction, shame, and resentment. Our so-called spiritual life becomes more about how well we can exercise our own willpower than about gradually surrendering deeper and deeper into the Lover of our soul.
Here is a summary of a conversation that I've had multiple times with multiple different people. They tell me about the "every day" goal that was set, followed by a report on how well they are doing. Almost every time they "aren't doing too well at it" and want to be more consistent. The conversation focuses on the days that were missed rather than the days where it happened. There is little, sometimes no mention at all of how great their rendezvous with God is on the days where it happens. That is clouded out by guilt of missing a day or being inconsistent. This is religion. Fixation on our activity instead of God's, and obsession with our own performance. I know it well because I have done it in my own life time and again. I set up my own "system" to complete so that I can consider myself worthy, and then I can't do it, which leads me into shame. This is not part of the abundant life that Jesus proclaimed that he came to bring us.
So is there an alternative? Of course! But it's a matter of deep discernment and listening, and it won't necessarily be easy.
What I have found very striking is that so few of us have actually asked God how He wants us to spend time with Him. We've all heard about the things that we are "supposed to do" as Christians, and all of them are good and useful. But take some time to ask the Lord “is there any specific way that he would like to spend time/engage with you?" Is there anything else He wants to share about it? Take the pressure off of yourself and find yourself dining with him the way that he desires, which he may change daily, seasonally, or however he chooses.
A deeper question that will invite you to take God’s view of your life and growth is this: How is Christ being formed in me? What does it look like to surrender to Him in that process?
This question will invite you to consider your own soul and how you were uniquely crafted by a loving Father. If you allow it, it will shift your focus from what you try to do for God and reveal what God is trying to do in you. And given enough time and sincere reflection, it will lead you to the "easy yoke and light burden" that Jesus talked about.