Quiet Time for the Structure Impaired

He is redefining for me what it means to have quiet time with Him.

Have you noticed how many magazines or television shows focus on food? The Food Channel, Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, the list goes on and on. As I read or watch them, enjoying the recipes, I’ve noticed something: They never have topics titled, “Finding Time for Eating.”

The desire for food, the absolute need for it, is a given. The food industry may offer ways to enhance the eating experience, new ways to cook food, or tips for serving it. But they start with the (correct) assumption that you always find time for food.

If Jesus was speaking truth when He said that we do not “live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), then it follows that our hunger for those words should also be a given. We should desire to meet with God regularly to read His words in Scripture, to hear His whisper in our quieted hearts. But that is not how it always happens.

I, like many others, wrestle with the challenge of a regular quiet time. But over the past few years, God has begun to change my perspective on the whole issue; He is redefining for me what it means to be with Him.

Structure or Stricture?
When I became a believer I found out that I was supposed to pray and read my Bible every day—not just occasionally. I also got the idea that this time had to be rather structured, reading the Bible, maybe using a fill-in-the-blanks study guide, and praying using a format that ensured I didn’t leave out less palatable elements, such as confession. Devotions were separated from the rest of my day. I had my quiet time, and then I had the rest of my time, nicely compartmentalized into separate boxes.

While structure or guides for prayer can be helpful, all those “shoulds” surrounding quiet times didn’t exactly infuse my spirit with joy, even though I knew that my time with God was supposed to connect me to Him.

If our quiet times are a prescribed obligation, they will become yet another difficult-to-maintain chore. I’ve heard people say they need to “do” their quiet time. If time, quiet or otherwise, is something you do so you can check it off your list, will it really strengthen your connection with your Creator and fill you with joy, peace, and love? If it doesn’t change who you are, draw you closer to God, or help you grow, why do it at all?

As I have moved past obligation, I use a question a spiritual mentor once gave me: Where can I create some space for God in my day?

Creating Space
Sometimes creating space for God looks just like a traditional quiet time, complete with Bible reading, prayer, perhaps journaling. But it usually looks different for me.

Recently, I met God in the garden. I sat for a while and sketched in my notebook, letting my soul slow down. I invited God to join me in the silence. I asked Him, “How are things between us?” I tried to listen and to tell Him how much He means to me. As I sat, learning how to be quiet by simply doing it, I was aware of God’s love for me and His amazing creativity. Who else but God could think up a fragrance like lilac?

Another aspect of creating space has to do with physical space. I have piled pillows and a throw blanket in a corner of my home office. I never work in that corner. It’s a sacred space, a quiet place to read or pray. Just being in that space slows me down, helps me to listen. Because I’ve met God there before, I come into that corner expectantly.

Embracing Silence
I find it ironic that for so many years my “quiet” times were dominated by words. I would talk to God or journal about the Scripture I read. I would buy little Bible study books and fill in the blanks. The disciplines of silence and listening didn’t really have a place. Certainly I would try to hear God through Scripture; but often I would start analyzing the words without reflecting on what God was saying to me through them. In recent years, spiritual mentors have taught me how rich silence can be. I’m finding that sitting in stillness can create space in an extraordinary way.

At first, silence felt uncomfortable. Just a few minutes without talking felt like an hour. As I persevered, however, I found I met God in the silence. Silence relieved the pressure of having to come up with profound words or thoughts. In silence, I brought only myself—and realized that was very little. When my words were absent, God could fill the space with His presence. The quiet became not just the absence of noise, but an opening for the presence of peace.

“If I only had more time,” we lament, “then finding time to spend with God would be easier.” This statement implies time is something to manage or an elusive thing we try to gather in and nail down.

My closest friends and I talk on the phone almost every day, sometimes more than once. We go walking or volunteer together. Occasionally, we have times of deeper connection where we find out how things are between us. We encourage and challenge each other. One thing we don’t do is have meetings where we feel obliged to show up, where we say words we think we are supposed to say.

It’s similar in my friendship with Jesus. I’ve found that obligatory meetings do not increase my motivation for time with Him. I cannot box up my time with God, giving Him only a portion, an appointment. Rather, I look for ways I can make all my time with Him worthwhile.

Finding time for quiet time is not about doing or saying more. Just the opposite: We find quiet when we still our souls and stem the tide of our activities and words. Motivated not by obligation, but by our desire for God, we will find that our quiet time—indeed, all of our time—is a gift He wants to share with us.

Keri Wyatt Kent is a speaker and author of numerous books including Deeply Loved, Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life, Breathe and Oxygen.

Adapted from Discipleship Journal, Issue 138, November 2003. Used by permission of NavPress.


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