Perhaps it is just me but I have owned more journals, more devotional guides, more fill-in-the-blank bible study books, and more small group question starters than any one human should. It’s as if I have secretly believed that there is a correlation between aesthetically pleasing cover design and my motivation to complete the devotional study. In case you are wondering about the outcome of the above mentioned assertion - there is no correlation. Nothing. Zero.
My desire has been to develop a more disciplined life and want-to-want-to but I have struggled with a cycle of turning over a new leaf, excitement, failure, shame...purchase a new product that will reform my spiritual practice, turning over a new leaf, excitement, failure, shame...purchase another new product. And there we have it.
Years of congregational ministry, the academic pursuit of theology degrees, and the opportunity to teach, speak and preach have not protected me from what I like to call “don’t wanna practice the practices.” While I might be a less than stellar devotional book completer, the Holy Spirit has formed in me the gift of self awareness and the ability to reflect. And with careful attention to what I was observing in myself I realized that my desires were not false, fleeting or flippant. I truly did desire more of God but was struggling to find my lane.
The freedom that this insight brought to my heart is hard to put into words. The shame cycle of being a loser in the “quiet time” category was lifted. And perhaps for the first time I heard what the Lord really desired in this. My heart. It was always my heart. For all humanity for all times, it has always been our hearts. He wanted mine surrendered and formed to look like his. And now we just needed to continue finding ways for that re-creating process to thrive.
Just a few lines into Ruth Haley Barton’s, Sacred Rhythms, and it felt like she was telling my story and the ‘me too moment’ I found in her words helped me breathe. I had read Foster, Peterson, Nouwen, Brother Lawrence, Thomas Merton, Thibodeaux and more. Don’t get me wrong, all well loved and well worn -- quoted, taught from, and recommended to others but it was in the simple reading of Sacred Rhythms that I found my voice. Barton’s questions and frustrations resonated with my own and her gentle push towards finding the spiritual practices that would draw me in and feel sustainable captured my imagination. And thus began my journey toward the practices of Noticing and Examen.
Carving out a block of time at the end of each week to engage in what I now know is true communion with the Father quickly revealed to me what I had been missing for years as I laboriously tried to fill in another blank on a devotional page or journal. Sitting in silence waiting in the quiet to still my mind and heart became the craving of my heart. Moving from the stillness to replaying my week with intentionality looking for where I found myself drawn to the Lord and where I found places of resistance allowed me to sit in vulnerability and truth. It woke me up to noticing the kindness of the Lord in the everyday and what some might call the mundane. It offered space for confession. Like a movie reel playing in my consciousness I saw glimpses of my interactions through the week and my secret thoughts were brought into the light. In the process of examination I was brought fully into the presence of God at every turn and I fell into Him over and over.
You of course know already what comes next. As you come more fully into the presence of the Lord and you are faced more directly with your humanity, your call to holiness and wholeness, you desire more of Him. Turning to text then to dwell deeply on the nature of God and the unfolding story of His relationship with humanity becomes what you crave. The thing I was previously trying to force was now as necessary as air. My desire for more and my endless questioning of “is this all there is” had found a home.
So seek and find. Find the thing, your thing. A way that connects your heart to the ever loving heart of the Father. If it is through a journal, a devotional book, solitude, contemplative prayer, studying the scriptures, worship in song, service, or the practice of Noticing and Examen. Just find your thing. And allow God to do His. Giftedness and competence are important, but living life, ministry, and relationship that wells up out of the overflow of the heart and a rich interior life are even more important.
Arlene Kasselman is a tea and chocolate enthusiast, people lover, fun seeker, question asker, non-pragmatist, and a momma to Art & Design students at Abilene Christian University. She and her husband David reside in Abilene, TX.