I’m not entirely sure what the deal is with 2017 but it’s been fairly sucky for us so far. Especially the last month or two. Amongst the dramas of a car crash, tonsillitis, post-natal depression and the usual ups and downs of life, our little one has had a nasty ear infection which has given him soaring fevers and very little sleep for all of us.
The last few nights I’ve taken to sleeping on a make-shift bed next to him in order to give a bit of comfort and reassurance when he wakes up in pain and distress. In the wee hours of Monday morning during one such wake-up, he reached out and took hold of my hand through the bars of his cot. This simple and gentle contact was enough to reassure him back into a deep sleep.
The next morning I got up aching and exhausted, and after too much espresso made my way into our spare room for a short time of prayer before heading out for the day. One of the readings from the day’s lectionary contained the following words from Psalm 73:
Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.
As I watched the sun coming up between the trees at the back of our garden, showing the early beginnings of spring blossom, I mused on the tender trust of my son as he held my hand in the night – that this was enough to reassure him all would be well. I was struck that I needed this same reassurance from my Heavenly Father.
The days of early parenthood are trying times for many of us, especially amidst the hectic pace and expectations of modern life. It’s safe to say I’ve not really been myself lately, the sleeplessness and stress has definitely taken its toll, but without a doubt I can trace the positive impact that daily spiritual discipline has had on me during this time in the desert (when I’ve managed to do it of course). The days I have managed to steal 10 or 15 precious minutes for prayer, reading and meditation are better days when I am a better man.
I’m not sure what’s going on culturally among the faithful in 2017, but what I am sure of is that the importance of practising daily spiritual discipline seems to have taken second place to sarcastic memes and “I’m so broken” posts on social media. It’s great that people feel the freedom to be real about their struggles, but the challenge always has to be “what are we going to do about it?”. I was moaning to a Vicar friend of mine recently about something, and his first response was a slightly curt and ungracious “have you prayed about it?” The honest answer was “no”.
Friends, many of us are struggling at the moment, even in the relative safety and affluence which most of us in the west enjoy. Life seems tough for a lot of people I know lately. Enthusiasm doesn’t seem to be abounding. But can I encourage you as I encourage myself: don’t neglect the practice of the daily discipleship stuff? Things probably won’t improve without it. This isn’t salvation by works or legalism – for me it’s basic survival and pragmatism. I’ve never set time aside to be with God and regretted it.
I’ve never set time aside to be with God and regretted it.
As my spiritual director always says, “pray as you can, not as you can’t”. 5 minutes might not be 15 minutes, but it’s much better than 0 minutes. I know a lot of people are “done with Church”, so why not try finding a couple of mates to get real with and pray every week?
Let’s face it – the data usage on our mobile devices and our Netflix history probably tells us just how much time we really have to spare.
Keep walking with Jesus friends, the storm will break.
For those, like me, who are too exhausted to find much creativity in their spiritual life at the moment, try using a daily office or liturgy. The regular rhythm and prescribed pattern have been a real solace for me. You could try the Church of England’s daily office for starters.