To be completely honest with you, my time in the Word has been struggling lately. I have not had consistent, in-depth, intimate time with God in quite some time. But it is not for lack of motivation.
In general, the practice of maintaining a regular quiet time is treated as a matter of sheer discipline. If you don’t have one, it’s because you are lazy. End of story. I would like to propose that this Christian discipline is a bit more complicated than that.
But first, let me give you a little background on my own struggle to have a quiet time. Contrary to expectation, it has little to do with an inability to wake up early in the morning. Rather, it stems from a much bigger picture.
This past year has been a hard one for me on a number of different levels. I have had uncertainty about my future, I have had people betray me whom I trusted. I have lost loved ones unexpectedly. I have been tired, worn out, and overwhelmed by life. Sometimes it has been a challenge to get out of bed in the morning.
Given these struggles, one would think that my time in the Word would be that much sweeter. After all, it is in these valleys that I need God’s refuge and comfort the most. Desperately, even. And yet, I have had to drag myself to open my Bible. It’s not that I can’t remember to make time for it–it’s that I don’t want to. The idea of taking that time to read and pray is almost frightening to me.
But why? Why is my soul having the exact opposite reaction that it should be having? The answer is that I have become terrified of silence. The moment I sit still and eliminate all my distractions is the moment I have to confront everything that is burdening me, hurting me, draining me. And frankly, I don’t want to do that.
So what do I do instead? I fill every waking moment with noise. From the moment I wake up I flip on the television. When I’m in the car I listen to talk radio. Even when I’m in my office I have music playing. I use all of those avenues to escape reality. As long as I can keep myself distracted, then I don’t have to think about the pains of life.
Providentially, I heard a podcast with pastor Rob Bell today, and he addressed this issue in a way that has helped me think through this problem. He began by explaining that when he and his wife first started observing the Sabbath, they found themselves in a full-on depression by the afternoon. The reason, he concluded, was that his body had become addicted to the adrenaline hits of a busy day. He was so trained to go, go, go that his body was almost chemically dependent on it. Without that schedule, his body and mind didn’t know what to do with themselves, so on Sabbath days they simply shut down. It took years before he could wean himself off of that lifestyle.
I can relate. My body has become addicted to the rush of a busy day, not only in a chemical way, but in an emotional way. The distractions of my schedule serve as an emotional crutch, because they allow me to escape my hardships, pretend that they don’t exist. Rather than face my suffering, I hide from it amidst my daily plans.
From this perspective, the discipline of having a quiet time is about more than overcoming laziness. For some of us, it means we must wage an all-out battle–we must wage against our own physiological addiction to busy-ness, and we must wage against our fear of confronting silence and stillness. We will have to overcome both physical and emotional barriers before we can truly engage in the intimacy and vulnerability that a meaningful time with God demands.
Having said that, do not assume that struggling with this discipline means you are simply a bad Christian or that you are just plain lazy (although I’m not gonna lie–some of you are!). What’s more, having a quiet time does not mean you are engaging in real intimacy with God–it is easy to read Scripture quickly and superficially without engaging the heart. When you do this, you are turning your quiet time into just another distraction.
With all those factors in mind, we are wrong to oversimplify this Christian discipline. The truth of the matter is that time alone with God is an overwhelming prospect. For some of us, we are afraid of being that vulnerable, and for others it is a matter of retraining our bodies’ in a fundamentally physical way. But either prospect is daunting, so it is no wonder that many of us struggle with this seemingly simple Christian practice.
For that reason, I challenge you to confront the silence. When you’re driving in your car, turn off the radio. When you are getting ready for bed at night, flip off the tv. Set aside a Sabbath day each week. And most importantly, make time for real, searching, intimate time with God. Embrace the silence, even if that means embracing the fears and harships that you have run from all day long. Even if it is hard to focus and you feel frustrated or inefficient, confront the silence. Why? Because God promises to meet us in that place, as he reminds us in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” We must simply be still.
As long as we are running, then we are running away from God. As this verse teaches, experiencing God’s love does not entail any kind of running at all. We don’t have to do, do, do, go, go, go, or run, run, run. He is already with us, and He already loves us. We must simply be still.