For some reason, I can’t seem to channel the same discipline I have with my fitness and nutrition into consistency with spiritual disciplines. All my life I’ve struggled with the traditional spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading my Bible, and “quiet time.”
When the practice of journaling came into vogue in the church a few years ago, I added it on to the failure pile. I couldn’t seem to do that consistently either. I wasn’t doing much “right.”
While sitting with my friend, Jo, listening to Nancy Ortberg in a room full of other female church leaders, I heard words that brought me great relief. She struggled, too! She struggled with the same traditional spiritual disciplines I did. And imagine the pressure she felt…
Married to John Ortberg, lead pastor of a large California church and one of my favorite, highly respected Christian living authors, she felt the pressure…mightily…and publicly. She wasn’t like him. She didn’t find anything about prayer or Bible reading or quiet time easy. While watching her husband journal away each day and spend countless hours in reading and prayer, she was simply struggling to keep her sanity in the midst of raising young children.
Her breakthrough came while sitting on a bench one day watching her children play. She was at peace. She was feeling close to God. And the thought came to her… Jesus Never Journaled!
It was nowhere in the Bible.
It was simply a human method designed to enable us to grow closer to God. But, it was just one method. One option.
This simple truth freed her to start experiencing God in the ordinary moments of life. It released her of the pressure to “do” certain things to fit into the traditional definition of spiritual maturity and growth. She shares this story and more of her transformation in her humorous book, “Looking for God: An Unexpected Journey Through Tattoos, Tofu, and Pronouns.”
Oh what a relief to know I wasn’t alone. Here I was, a church board member for the largest church in Minnesota… a church that designed and distributed it’s own journal for goodness sake… yet, I couldn’t seem to be disciplined enough to actually use it.
To hear another woman with a voice in the church say, “it’s okay to experience God in a different way” was like loosening the noose around my neck.
In his book, “Sacred Pathways,” Gary Thomas outlines nine ways we can connect to God. Each of us has one that is likely more prominent than another… a way in which we feel most in union with God.
The pathways he described are:
Naturalists – Loving God Outdoors
Sensates – Loving God with the Senses
Traditionalists – Loving God through Ritual and Symbol
Ascetics – Loving God is Solitude and Simplicity
Activists – Loving God through Confrontation
Caregivers – Loving God by Loving Others
Enthusiasts – Loving God with Mystery and Celebration
Contemplatives – Loving God through Adoration
Intellectuals – Loving God with the Mind
I would guess one of these jumped out at you right away. But maybe for you it will require a bit more self-discovery.
For me, I knew immediately that my pathway is Naturalist.
It fully explains why I feel closest to God when I’m gazing at the ocean, in the heart of the mountains, or walking a great golf course (truly beautiful…despite my actual game!). My favorite spot in my house is the deck in the backyard, weather permitting, surrounded by trees and birds, or taking in the same view from my kitchen window. My heart is happy in these places.
Each season brings reminders of Him.
- Summer brings warm rays of sunshine. Turning my face to the sky, I feel His love for me.
- Fall (my favorite) shouts His majesty with the turning leaves and magnificent colors. I feel Him while writing this and gazing out my kitchen window on a gloriously sunny, autumn day.
- Winter brings the snow that blankets the earth. The trees, heavy and glistening, shimmer His presence.
- Spring brings color back to earth. The birds return and chirp His songs…singing of hope and new growth.
In contrast, I feel trapped in a big city, surrounded by man-made buildings and concrete.
Noise, crowds, and congestion put me in a near claustrophobic panic. Traffic and rush hour is my nightmare. And my not-so-close-to-God habits of impatience, frustration, and anger are in full bloom in these settings.
In no way am I discounting the importance of prayer, Bible reading, quiet times, or even journaling. These are all opportunities for us to know God better, to know more accurately His good and perfect will for our life, and to grow in wisdom.
We all are called to love and be in relationship with Him and with others. We learn to do both through intentional disciplines that traditional Christianity has espoused for centuries with a mostly good objective.
I am, however, advocating for a kinder, more gentle approach to spiritual growth.
Rather than subjecting ourselves to guilt over not doing it “right,” what if we allow for the possibility that taking a walk in the woods or gazing at the open water might bring more connection with and understanding of God than reading a book ever could?
What if caring for the sick or elderly or assisting in childbirth makes us more acutely aware of and in awe of the miracle of the human body God created?
What if fighting for justice… joining a protest or taking a stand for human rights violations… fuels our love for God and others who are too weak to fight for themselves?
Instead of feeling wracked with guilt over the daily struggle to pray, read, and journal, let’s acknowledge that we each have a unique, created-by-God, drive within us to connect deeply to Him.
We are drawn to it… intuitively. Where is there less struggle? That’s probably a good place to start exploring.
Be intentional about finding out how you are made to connect with Him. And then do it!
I know for Jesus, it wasn’t journaling.