Solitude (Spiritual Disciplines Part 1)

Photo:  klndonnelly
This series draws from Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder, which examines spiritual disciplines as pathways to reawakening our sense of awe in God’s work around us and His presence in us.

The trees along the Pearl River are still mostly bare in early March, but what beauty they lack in color is made up for by the stillness they guard.  I walked for a while one day, mandolin slung over my shoulder, along a trail that winds its way through puddles and fallen leaves to a tiny clearing at a bend in the river.  This little patch would be submerged later in the spring, but on this grey afternoon, it was the perfect spot for me to be alone and search for a song.  I strummed for a while at the water’s edge but found I didn’t have much to say, so I thumbed through my notebook to an old hymn text I’d scribbled down that morning.  As I sang that prayer over the water, the noise in my head quieted, and for a few minutes, my soul drank in the elusive joy of solitude.

Solitude is difficult to come by for me these days.  Between work and laundry and twin babies on the verge of toddlerhood (and...Netflix and Twitter), making time to be alone with God is a hard habit to cultivate.  Yet it’s something Jesus modeled for us time and again.  He’d teach and heal and give of himself and then quietly slip away from the bustle to be alone with his Father.  It was his way of reorienting himself, of calling to mind the reality that he was in the world but not of it.

In a world that is increasingly restless and constantly busy, Christians must create space daily for stillness with God.  Notice that I didn’t say “find time.”  Everyone is busy, and if we allow ourselves this excuse, we’ll never actually find time.  In Recapturing the Wonder, Mike Cosper recounts his experience on a retreat at a small monastery in Kentucky.  The monks there have built their daily life around times of prayer and worship, signaled by the ringing of bells throughout the day.  Similarly, our days (and weeks and years) should be intentionally framed by times of worship, not as a means of pleasing God but of resting in Christ’s work on our behalf.

Time alone with God should anchor our daily routine, and we don't have to take a monastic vow or a long walk in the woods to make it happen.  Some people wake early for half an hour of prayer and Scripture study.  Some use their lunch breaks, and some end the day with a time of quiet stillness.  It’s looked different for me in each season of life, but right now, my times of solitude revolve around my twins.  Every morning, I sit between them for 15-20 minutes to feed them their bottles, so I use this time to pray (with this great app as a purposeful, Scripture-soaked guide).  My evening prayer is similar.  This practice has been life-giving.  

Creating this kind of space isn’t just limited to 30 minutes of quiet.  Throughout the day, we can take moments to pause, say a brief prayer, or recite a verse of Scripture (more on this in part two!).  Mealtimes are perfect for this, as well as trips to the restroom and daily commutes.  A little intentionality goes a long way in reminding yourself of the reality of the Gospel.  The result of these “reorientations” is a heightened awareness of God’s presence in and purpose for our lives.

As our series continues, we’ll examine what we do with our solitude (prayer and Scripture study) as well as fasting, feasting, and generosity.  Stay tuned for part two!

 

Family Worship (Vintage Family Part 1)

Photo by:  Dave Traynor

Photo by: Dave Traynor

This is the first in a series of posts on the Biblical family.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.

The Bible strongly calls parents to teach and disciple their children but never really gives a specific guide as to what worship in the home should look like.  So, unfortunately, generic prayers at mealtime often make up the entirety of a family’s worship time together.  But if the Gospel is informing and shaping all aspects of our lives, transforming every moment into a continuous act of worship, shouldn’t we carefully consider how our families worship together?  

Since the birth of our oldest daughter, my wife and I have been blessed to know several families who set examples we could follow as we sought to cultivate worship in our home.  Over the years, we’ve implemented some of their ideas as well as some of our own.  What follows are a few things that work for our family.  Some of these might not apply to your family, and I’m quite sure that our own routine will change as our kids get older.  But the idea is that each of us must do something to pursue a family life consumed with Scripture, prayer, and reminders of our need for God’s grace in Christ.  

Bedtime Bible reading

Every night before bed, we sit down with our kids (ages 7 and 4) to read a Bible story.  We briefly discuss it and then pray together.  This usually takes ten minutes, at the most.  It requires no preparation time, eloquent speech, or special talent.  It just takes a little bit of time.  It’s a baby step that leaves a huge footprint.  Over time, these stories become ingrained, and the kids remember and relate them to situations in their lives.  

For our readings, we rotate through several age-appropriate, story Bibles: The Rhyme Bible (great for toddlers), The Beginner’s Bible (simple language, summarizes many key stories), The Jesus Storybook Bible (contains fewer stories but deeper and more beautiful language/art, points all of Scripture to Jesus), and the Seek and Find ESV Bible (includes the entire English Standard Version translation, illustrated summaries of a very wide selection of Bible stories, and discussion questions).

Prayer

After we read the Bible at bedtime, we spend a minute or two praying together about whatever may be going on that day.  The kids are welcome to pray aloud or silently if they want, but they don’t have to pray.  We just make them be still and quiet during prayer out of respect for those who are praying.  

To remind us to pray about a variety of things, we also follow a weekly prayer calendar.  Each day of the week, we pray for different people in our lives: family members, friends who don’t know Christ, missionaries we know or support, and others.  It reminds all of us that there is more to prayer than thanking God for our food, though we certainly do that too!  A brief prayer of thanksgiving before meal time is a great way to pause and remember the One from whom, to whom, and through whom all things exist.  We also try to be sensitive to stop and pray during special instances of need or praise as they arise.

Catechism and Scripture memory

A couple of years ago, we began learning A Catechism for Boys and Girls during our missional community gatherings, and it has become an integral part of our family life.  The catechism asks key questions like “Who made you?” (Answer: “God made me.”) and “Why did God make you and all things?” (Answer: “For His own glory.”).  As we memorize each question and answer, we examine Scriptures that illustrate each point and slowly learn the overarching themes of the Bible.  Learning the catechism continually brings about wonderful spiritual conversations with our kids and provokes them to ask important questions.  We often discuss the catechism over dinner together.  It has been just as beneficial for us as it has for them!

Our first exposure to this catechism was in the Truth and Grace Memory Books, which contain the catechism questions, as well as hymns and age-based lists of Bible verses that we memorize as a family.  The main way we memorize these verses is by making up silly but memorable tunes to go along with the words.  You don’t have to be very musically literate to do this.  Just take a portion of Scripture and try singing it to a tune.  It doesn’t have to be good, just memorable!  

Songs

Speaking of music, our kids enjoy a song at bedtime, so we often sing a verse of a hymn or part of a worship song that we know from our church.  For non-musical people, singing together can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.  Kids don’t care if you sing well, and it doesn’t have to be very formal.  Often, just including some quality worship music in the rotation during car rides or around the house will often bring it about organically.  Download some worship songs you enjoy from iTunes or make a Spotify playlist that you can use to sing along with your family.

Church worship gatherings

Gathering to worship with our church is an extension of the worship that takes place in our home.  For our kids, some parts of congregational worship are required: they must come with us,  and after a certain age, they must sit with us in the worship service.  They must be quiet and still (within reason, of course...they’re kids!) during prayer, preaching, communion, etc.  But some things aren’t required: we encourage them to pray, sing, and read along, but we don’t make them.  We also try to explain what is going on in worship to the kids on their level.  We seek to find the balance between modeling worship and requiring obedience without legalism.

Other thoughts

It has taken time for these things to become normal for us, and it’s still a work in progress.  Sometimes, we stay out late and don’t have time for our bedtime routine, or we go a long time between learning Scriptures.  But little by little, by experimenting to find what works, worship has become part of everything we do as a family.  As a result, we get to use the Scriptures we’ve memorized, catechism questions we’ve learned, and songs we’ve sung in “real life” situations.  When the girls are scared of the dark, we recite “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”  When something wonderful happens, we sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”  When there is whining or complaining, we sing “Give thanks in all circumstances for the is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  When the kids are violent toward each other, we say, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”  It makes the discipline more meaningful, the blessings sweeter, and the fears and pains more bearable.  

Find what works for your family, and do it!