There was a time in my life when I tried to do ‘quiet times’. I don’t any more.
I don’t know where the term came from, but the idea of doing a ‘quiet time’ has been part of my Christian life for as long as I can remember. Countless youth camps and church house parties helpfully had that little rectangle marked out daily in the timetable: ‘quiet time’. And I know why! There is much wisdom in having a ‘quiet time’: 30 or so minutes of sitting quietly, Bible open, reading, learning, praying. Brilliant.
But somewhere along the line I got it in my head that a ‘quiet time’ was the way to spend personal time with God in his word. And this became a problem when life got noisier. For me, this happened when we had kids. See, when the little people came along I looked harder and harder to find that 30 minutes of ‘quiet time’. I’d try to get up earlier (but then my alarm clocks had two arms, two legs and a life of their own). I’d try to stay up later (actually I didn’t try that because I don’t trust my tired self!). So I’d hang out for that holy grail: the nap-overlap – when all the little people would be sleeping at the same time in the afternoon. “Then”, I would say to myself, “then I will do my quiet time”. But more often than not when that holy grail of nap-overlap did eventuate, I’d sub out ‘quiet time’ for chill time or tidy up time. And while there certainly needs to be time for those things… when was I going to have my quiet time?
One day I realized I’d made a mistake. It didn’t need to be quiet for me to have a ‘quiet time’. That is, it didn’t need to be quiet for me to have time with God. I do not need physical quiet to hear the voice of God ‘in the quiet of my heart’ (I think that’s a misunderstanding of 1 Kings 19). What I do need is my Bible open (or even just my ears open while the Bible is read aloud). That’s how I hear God speak.
A friend and I have made a deal that we try and call each other on Mondays to catch up. Sometimes we hit the jackpot and get to have a nice long chat with no distractions. But more often than not it is a conversation with a nice array of interruptions: one of us is cooking dinner, or driving with little people in the car or waiting for another meeting to start. But amongst all that we still manage to touch base and get a sense of how the other is doing. And I’d much rather a few minutes hearing from her each week amongst the noisiness of car trips and cafe queues than wait months for 30 minutes of pristine peace and quiet. Truth be told, we both can speak loud enough to be heard over whatever else is going on!
My relationship with God has some similarities. I don’t have to be in a particularly calm head or heart space to encounter God. In his beautiful kindness, my God speaks in words: words that have been written down; words which I can read on the busiest of days and in the noisiest of places. I do not need to carve out a special sacred time in my day to encounter God. There are not certain things I need to do or feel to create the space for him to walk into. All of my day belongs to God. At any time I can open the Bible and be assured that by his Spirit in me (what a gift!) I will hear Him speak.
So while it is easier to read well and think well and pray longer when there are no distractions, I’ve found that my ‘Bible time’ is more regular now that it’s just amidst the chaos of breakfast rather than waiting for the holy grail of nap-overlap. Sometimes I only get a snippet of God’s wisdom, or a snatch of a promise of what he’s done for me in Christ, but often it is on those crazy days that I need it most.
Godwilling a time will come when the ‘quiet times’ return. But until then I will plough on with my not-so-quiet Bible time. I will sit with my Bible, toast and tea (and I’ve found a study guide helps a lot too!). I will put off cleaning up the Weetbix or finding that treasured toy for just a few more minutes. I will read, think, pray and sometimes write and treasure that time with God in his word. After all, when we’re hearing God speak in his word, it was never going to be truly quiet, was it?!