"Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him, Thou art my hiding place; Thou dost preserve me from trouble; Thou dost surround me with songs of deliverance." Ps. 32:6,7
I'm in the middle of the grocery store when my watch rings 3:00. Time to pray again. I fuss a bit with the buttons, reset the alarm for 4:00 and push my cart down the aisle trying to look completely nonchalent while I whisper thanks to the Lord for His gifts and pray for a couple names that are on my mind.
It's a routine I practice now and then, letting my wrist watch set the pace for the day. Every hour a reminder rings to stop me and turn my eyes to the Lord. Chime by chime, prayer pulls me close to His presence and through the day.
In our ongoing pursuit of peace, little rituals like this can help pave a straight path for our feet.
We've established that living in peace is living in Christ, submitted to His rule and filling ourselves with His presence. We don't have to have order or health or routine or success to dwell in peace; that peace can reign in us no matter the circumstances. But over the next couple of posts I'd like to address some practical things we can do to facilitate our spiritual growth and also create a comforting and secure environment for peace to flourish.
As I sit down to write this post, I find myself tentative, not wanting to burden any tired soul with more to do, more to worry about, more things at which to fail. St. Benedict, when he was writing his famous Rule for monastics, said "We hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." So I hope you will take these words as they are intended: an offering of ideas to glean from, not another weight to add to your heavy load.
Adding order to our daily lives is one way we can protect the peace that we are so diligently cultivating. St. Benedict said, "The good of all concerned may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and safeguard love." I have found this to be very true in our lives, where disability for one tends towards chaos and frustration for many members of the family.
Our spiritual lives can become just as cluttered as our physical lives. We have piles of expectations lying about, old commitments mouldering in the basement, failures stacked up in closets. We hang on to old sermons and Bible studies and that snide remark someone in our Bible study group made and we allow them to make a mess of our interior lives. We've become so used to living with the collected mess that we can't even tell anymore that we are distracted and stressed and confused.
Let's start clearing that mess out, shall we?
We'll start at the top: the first thing we need to do is ask ourselves whether we are being obedient to the call of God in our lives. Are we faithfully working at what He has assigned us to do? The reason we want to ask ourselves this is because we are going to do a little spiritual de-cluttering. I'm just going to leap ahead here and state this as plainly as possible: if you are married and/or have children, your very first calling is to your spouse and those children. A spouse must be nurtured, supported, listened to, cared for, served. It is the same for children, but they must also be brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. If you have a special needs child or ongoing health issues or unusual circumstances in your home, this is going to take an even larger portion of your priorities. Are you obeying God?
(I think it's important to take a pause here and clarify. Please do not misunderstand my words in regard to faithfully caring for families. I do not equate obedience to God in this area to: full-time stay-at-home mom. Families are different, needs are different, gifts and abilities are different. What I mean is, are we caring for our spouses and our children in the most loving way possible? Are we putting their needs before our own and serving them as a life's calling? How that works out in a family is a decision between a husband and wife and the Lord.)
If we find after prayerful consideration that our priorities are not in order, then our first step is to get rid of the excess in our lives and put our energy into God's calling. I know you have a lot of "buts..." here, but I am going to be as ruthless with you as I am with myself. Cut the fat. Get rid of everything that encumbers you. If blogging is getting in the way, quit or take a long break as I often do. Church nursery? Quit. Bible study? Quit. Writing a novel? Maybe later. I know, I know, you can hardly restrain yourself from objecting. But listen, you have WORK to do for the Kingdom. Don't be so tangled in good things that you can't do the right thing. Do you really want to explain to the Lord that you know your husband didn't feel loved, but you were just so busy with Bible study? I don't think so.
The good news is that once we tidy up our priorities we will likely find there is space for some of those other things we want to do, but now we will have our spiritual homes in order and those extra things will fit into their rightful places.
This examination and spiritual decluttering is something we are going to have to do all our lives as seasons change, needs change, family dynamics change. Never get stagnant. Just keep asking, weighing, watching and releasing.
Central to this process is prayer. And now, after all that subtracting and tidying, we are going to get to the point of this post which is a real, practical thing we can do to make straight paths for peace.
For peace-building and keeping, we need a habit of prayer.
In the evangelical tradition, we tend to think of once a day devotions (or "quiet time") as our primary time with the Lord. This usually involves Scripture reading, prayer and perhaps a Bible study. Other traditions follow Fixed Hour prayer: praying at set times of the day - morning, noon, night - through the liturgy (which is mostly Scripture, arranged to follow the Church year.)
However we pursue it, we are after a lifestyle that conforms itself around regular prayer and communion with God. This is the key to entering into that fullness of peace and Presence.
Several years ago I began reading The Rule of St. Benedict as part of our homeschool curriculum. I was fascinated by the way the monastics created a skeleton of prayer on which to hang their days. At set times, a bell would ring and each person was required to stop whatever they were doing and go to prayer and Scripture reading. Far from being disruptive this continual return to prayer kept the nuns and monks centered on Christ. I was intrigued.
At first, praying the Hours seemed a cumbersome task. How on earth was I going to fit multiple prayer times into each day when I could barely fit ONE? But there was something compelling about the idea and so I turned the trunk at the foot of my bed into a little prayer bench and set my watch. When the alarm went off in the middle of the day I excused myself from the family, closed my door and prayed the Hours. It was terribly difficult at times to stop what I was doing and go to that little bench. It was hard to still my mind and focus on the 10 minutes of prayer, but eventually, those few minutes at noon became an anchor in the day, returning my mind to its home in Christ and allowing Peace to guard my spirit. One of the beautiful things I've found about praying the Hours is that it eliminates the fruitless mind-wandering that so many of us find discouraging about prayer. I don't have to manufacture words, I am simply praying Scripture back to God. It is amazing how many days the liturgy feels like God wrote it just for my particular circumstances on that day.
Over time, I have developed a pretty steady rhythm of morning devotions, noon fixed hour prayer and evening Bible reading with the family. Occasionally, when I feel peace slipping away I set my watch as I shared at the beginning of the post and pray on the hour. This is the only way I have found to truly maintain that continual focus on Christ. And you'll notice that it doesn't require a lot of separating myself from my duties and relationships; it is a very simple way to bring the mind back around again and connect with the Lord.
In The Rule of Benedict for Beginners, Will Derkse offers these suggestions from his observations of Benedictine nuns at Hildegard's Abbey in Eibingen, Germany.
"One needs to be like a good abbot for oneself: not making any demands that will destroy you, but on the other hand put the bar high enough so that there is a daily challenge. [...] The copying of the rhythm of the abbey with six or seven daily times of prayer, a few hours of lectio divinia, fixed recreation periods, etc. in a reasonably demanding business life or in a family - that is unrealistic and produces only frustration. This is about finding a rhythm that fits you."
What we need is order accompanied by flexibility.
As I said earlier in the post, I have no desire to lay burdens on the shoulders of weary families. The reason I share my personal approach is because contrary to logic, more and dedicated prayer has created less stress in my life. The more often I stop and fill up on Christ, the less I have to wrestle for peace, the less work I have to do to maintain my attitudes and language. Order and routine carve a straight path for my spirit to commune with the Prince of Peace and He does the heavy work of keeping the peace in our home. But this specific approach will not work for everyone. I hope this will be a beginning point for you in thinking about new ways to build your day around prayer, not more unwanted clutter in your life. I pray you will be inspired and challenged to seek the Lord for His own order and routine for you.
In the next post I'll be sharing - briefly, I hope. I'm sorry there are so many words in this series! - about order and routine in the home environment.
Book of Common Prayer history and information (Protestant)
Canonical Hours history and information (covers Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as well)
The Divine Hours (paperback)
The rest of the posts in this series:
Part two: The Language of the Peaceable Kingdom
Part one: Which Ruler Will You Choose?
Introduction: Keeping Peace