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Photo courtesy of Whitney R. Simpson.

Whitney R.Simpson

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Come Away: Starting or restarting spiritual practices

By Whitney R. Simpson
March-April 2017

(Jesus) said to the apostles, "Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while." Mark 6:31 CEB

Do you pray? It may sound like a silly question, but pause and consider it. How and when do you set aside time for private prayer or other spiritual practices? Do your practices invite you to "come away" and rest with God, or do they feel like yet another item on your never-ending task list?

You can pray with scripture, with prayer beads, with color or with your body. You can meditate silently, read aloud, embrace breath prayers or talk with God in your journal. The truth is, I spend time with God in each of these ways. Don't worry, not all at once. I practice various ways of praying because my personality longs for creativity and variety. This approach can be encouraging for some and downright scary for others. The spiritual journey offers an invitation for embracing personal quiet time apart with God, not dreading it or seeing it as a chore. Unfortunately, when it comes to spiritual practices, many of us struggle. Why is this?

Practice practices

What if rather than something you must check off your Christian task-list, you practiced simply being with God in ways that bring you delight and offer your soul rest? After all, practice is both a noun and a verb.

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There is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to spending time with God. Maybe at some season in your life, it seemed that in order to connect with God, spiritual practices had to look a certain way. Christians today are not afraid to talk about meeting God in a variety of ways. There are those of us who meet God on a yoga mat or while praying over paper with a box of crayons. I recognize these spiritual practices are non-traditional. Yet God does not define what our time apart is to look like, God simply invites us to "come away" to a secluded place and rest in his presence (Mark 6:31 CEB).

Do you long to "come away" with God but simply are not sure where to start? Are you stuck in a rut or do you have false expectations of blissful quiet time apart? Are you too busy to consider what a restful spiritual practice may look like? Discovering delight with God does not happen by accident nor is it always picture perfect. That is one reason I savor time with God as practice, not perfection.

Years in the church have shaped my life. We had community meals, fellowship, outreach opportunities, choir, Bible study and more. These were all good things in community; yet I never really felt like the church equipped me to "come away" and spend time with God privately.

What I learned about this as an adult came after a health crisis that forced me into solitude and rest due to my health limitations. In this mandatory and very secluded time apart, I discovered being with God takes practice and intention. It is something we can only discover for ourselves. While it is never perfect, spending time alone with God in our own practices makes us better equipped disciples for the body of Christ.

Helps for prioritizing

We hear God's nudges, we understand why, yet it may remain a challenge to prioritize a time of spiritual practice. Longing for rejuvenation? Consider the following:

  • What? What kinds of activity or restful time apart from the world draw you nearer to God? Do you prefer variety or consistency? Do you need active or quiet opportunities for listening to God?
  • When? Discover your own routine. What time of day works best for your lifestyle? Carve out the space in your day just as you would any other important appointment. Morning and evening are obvious choices, yet do not forget about those little chunks of unused time when you could practice being with God.
  • Where? Consider setting apart sacred space in your home – a special prayer chair, the corner of a prayer closet, a place dedicated to Bible study, art creation or journaling.
  • How? Start where you are and release where you long to be – a few minutes of spiritual practice is better than no practice. Do not be afraid to try something new, especially if the old feels stale.
  • Need a reminder? Install a prayer or meditation app on your smart phone. Consider wearing a reminder, like a piece of purposeful jewelry. Place your favorite Bible, journal, pens or crayons by your bedside as a visual cue to prioritize your time in practice.

No matter where you are on your spiritual path, be kind to yourself. Release expectations of what being with God may look like and simply choose to "come away" and be with God. Spending time in spiritual practice is not a "pass or fail" experience. God created each of us uniquely. Discover how God invites you to "come away" and then practice. After all, practice is both a noun and a verb.

Creator God, help me come away, to practice being in your presence and discover rest with you. Amen.

Whitney R. Simpson is the author of Holy Listening with Breath, Body and the Spirit (Upper Room Books). As a spiritual director and retreat facilitator, she incorporates yoga and other ancient tools. She is certified in spiritual formation, is a 500-hour master yoga instructor with Holy Yoga Ministries and a certified lay minister. Simpson lives with her family in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Her website is www.exploringpeace.com.