For much of my life I understood, “having a personal relationship with Jesus” as a simple, three-step process. Step one: Pray to accept Jesus as your personal Savior. Step two: Have a quiet time every morning. Step three: Enjoy the profits of a fulfilled, righteous Christian life. It was a nice, neat formula to achieve a nice, neat Christian life.
And in my corner of suburban Christianity, “quiet time” was a monolith—set in stone and unchanging. It meant waking up early (quiet times had to be in the morning) reading your study Bible for a set period of time, highlighters in hand, and spending a set amount of time praying. (And in the particular church I was in, there was a defined pattern to your daily prayer for each day of the week.)
It was a really helpful way to begin developing a deeper understanding of the Bible and a deeper relationship with God.
Over time, a quiet time became almost like a spiritual currency. Your “walk with Christ” was the measuring stick of your height and worth in the church. The minutes of your quiet time were counted out like amusement park raffle tickets—you had to have enough to enter. We had accountability partners, but what started as well-meaning friendships to encourage consistency in our “walk,” became legalistic check-ins to ensure standards were being met. Bible verses eventually were used as a lance to silence dissension or questions.
My friends and I, after the fact, called it being “turbo.” We were the extra special Christians, turbo-charged for the Lord. My fire burned brightly, but briefly.
The fires of legalism eventually led to self-immolation. And after, I found myself sifting through the ashes, wondering what was left of me and what was merely the remains of misguided good intentions.
Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you want to reach out and touch God.
But the words of the Bible smart. You draw back your hand like a child touching a hot stove upon hearing words used in the past like a cigarette butt to burn certain truths into your skin. You flinch like a dog who has been rapped on the nose with that rolled-up newspaper too many times, the words, “bad dog” echoing in your head. If you’re a woman, the lines of Proverbs 31 feel more like insults slung at you from a demanding and never quite satisfied ballet instructor. The idea of prayer feels like a smothering weight set on your chest. A reminder of all the times you haven’t prayed. All the times you haven’t measured up. The two simple words, “quiet time,” cause a tightening in your chest and your all-too-familiar friend, guilt, to creep sideways back into your heart.
What was supposed to bring you life brings you fear, guilt and dread.
That’s me. That’s where I am. I don’t like to admit it. And I don’t want to get back on the merry-go-round of spiritual performance. There’s too much history there. Too much scorched earth. But I also don’t want to stay here, on the sidelines, forever. I want to participate in the spiritual life, but not in the way that was ingrained in me.
And so, I am going on a quest. I want to find ways to seek God that aren’t tainted for me. That don’t reek with my past failed performances. That don’t fill me with an irrational panic, but rather with peace.
But I also don’t want to go alone.
As Thomas pointed out on Sunday, as we seek to follow Christ, we can go alone, but we will go much farther if we walk together. It’s like the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
Maybe you are someone, like me, who has a complicated relationship with following Christ. Or maybe you are someone who has been faithfully having your quiet times for years, but you feel a bit stuck and lackluster—instead of walking forward towards Christ, you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels. Or maybe you’re someone who is new to all of this, and you want to find ways to follow Christ.
Would you consider joining a small group to encourage one another on that journey? We would commit to experiencing spiritual practices that are new to us, rediscovering Church traditions that are meant to help us follow Christ, such as the Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina, Christian contemplation, prayer labyrinths, fasting, art, silence and service. We would meet to discuss our experiences, learn what was helpful and what wasn’t, and encourage one another as we continue to take step after step towards Christ.
I don’t know exactly where the journey will lead. But, as Thomas said, following requires movement, and this is a first step.
Written by Amber
We will be launching this new group soon! If you would be interested in joining this group, please contact Caitlin.