I’m a person that likes order and routine. In college, one of my favorite things to do before the start of each semester was make pretty color-coded schedules that I could follow every week. It made me feel “put-together” (as much as a college student can be, at least). I’ve always loved the satisfaction of crossing off tasks from my daily sticky note to-do lists and, yes, I do keep a planner in addition to my now so accessible phone and Google calendars. I’m that person that will organize a room before getting started on an assignment so as to feel mentally at peace. And believe me when I say that I find so much joy in all these quirks.
But recently I came to the realization that my search for order doesn’t just affect how I prioritize my day-to-day tasks. It affects how I carry them out as well. In particular, I noticed how it affects my prayer time. Since serving as a missionary and understanding how impossible it is to live out God’s call anywhere without speaking to Him first, I’ve made prayer a non-negotiable part of every day. However, it was definitely a challenge at first knowing where to even start once I’d found my quiet place to pray. To ensure that this time to meditate didn’t instead become time to occupy my mind with all sorts of distractions, I began to make a prayer routine as well – typically following steps like reading the Gospel of the day, journaling, listening to a worship song, and drawing a meaningful image that summarized my prayer. With routine I had the sense that I was getting something done.
And yet, prayer isn’t just about getting something done. It’s about fulfilling our most basic need to spend time with God.
In the daily readings this summer, I came across Joshua 24:14-29, where Joshua addresses the tribes of Israel asking if they will cast out meaningless gods in order to serve the one true Lord. As had become customary to me, I immediately began to write down what I was sure God was speaking to me through my quick skim of scripture. But breaking routine, I paused. I felt a sudden urge to be more reflective because perhaps God was trying to tell me something deeper than I was giving Him the chance to. It was in that pause that I realized that the god I’d been trying to worship was time. And it wasn’t until I put time aside that the one true God was able to say this to me. What had been a means to avoid distractions – routine – had become a limitation to my communication with God. Rather than let myself take pauses that allowed God to decide what was revealed in my prayer and what came next, I was crossing off these pre-determined parts of my prayer like tasks on a to-do list. It was as if I was running out of time before I needed to move on to the next thing.
I forgot that God himself is the author of my time – of all time.
I’m so used to working in environments where getting something done makes me feel productive, and feeling productive gives me a greater sense of worth. And while being productive is good and responsible in so many circumstances, like getting laundry done or making that dentist appointment, it’s not the measure for quality time with God. To use my time wisely for God isn’t to finish prayer like I finish my chores for the day, but to allow Him to take control of my time. I’ve realized that sometimes He wants me to read, sometimes He wants me write, and sometimes He just wants me to sit and contemplate His love indefinitely. And that is okay because how and when He chooses to communicate is always perfect.
To finish, I’ll leave you to reflect on the words of a song that came up in my prayer that day I decided to take a pause. It’s a beautiful and popular song that goes, “Better is one day in your courts, better is one day in your house, better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere…”
There’s so much value to just a few moments spent with God. Let’s not put limits on the possibilities God can open to us simply by giving Him control of our time spent with Him.