My Journey Toward A Daily Practice
If you would have asked me what my daily routine looked like before March 2020 I would have given you a pretty impressive answer. I woke up at 5:00 am (mostly), went to the gym, ate breakfast, then went to work or did school work. In the evening (between 7-10:00 pm), I would go to the gym a second time. Every day was filled with disciplined practices plus work. I loved it. But then quarantine began. No gym, no work, no church, no vacation; nothing. The large gap of free time made me uneasy. For months I had been asking for God to help me find more time in the day or to make the day longer. And finally, here it was! But instead of being grateful, I was frustrated. If I am honest, I was most frustrated because my routine was disrupted. A week or so before quarantine began I started reading the book "A Ruthless Elimination of Hurry" by John Commer. There was a particular part of the book that really made an impact on me. He said that even if God were to give us more time, we would just find other things to fill that time with and be just as busy as before. He is right. In fact, I usually want more hours in the day not to make space for my wife, dog, or friends. I want more time so I can do more work. He went on to say that if we do not have time for God because we are too "busy" then let's just be honest and admit that we don't want God. He makes the example of a married man who is too "busy" for his marriage. Either this man needs to do a drastic reordering of priorities or he must prepare for a divorce. Jesus did not command that we should not have two masters, he says it as a matter of impossibility, "No one can serve two masters" (Matt 6:24 emphasis mine). The problem isn't time, but priorities.
One night, after Chelsea fell asleep, I stayed up meditating on this.
Physically my body was the strongest it had ever been, my body mass was high, body fat low, conditioning on point, eating habits right on the mark, work was going great and I had good marks in school. But I had no intentional practice that centered me on God or caused me to reflect on my life. Somehow I had time for everything, except God and my soul.
With the gift of time, I began to craft a practice that worked for me. At that time I was also listening to the Nike Trained Podcast, where they interview professional athletes and coaches. What I realized was that all these high performing athletes had mental coaches. And these mental coaches not only helped high performing athletes but also business people, politicians, and other professionals who work in high stakes jobs. These mental coaches develop within their clients "rituals." These rituals are performed on the field and off the field. These rituals vary from meditation, prayer, reflection, journal, reading, or lighting a candle. All that sounded very familiar to me, It sounded like what we Christians call "morning devotions." All along my faith journey devotions have been presented to me as a practice that keeps us Christian and "connected with God." And maybe that is why I didn't continue pursuing it after waking up early to read and falling asleep praying a few times. But as I listened to this Podcast (along with a LONG list of books), I realized that "devotional" time is not a legal act. It is a grace. It is a disciplined practice that centers us. It is a ritual that grounds us, focuses us, and grows us.
From March to December 2020 I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what worked for me. I read Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Richard Foster, William Law, Thomas à Kempis, Ellen White, Dallas Willard, and Ryan Holiday to name a few. From this wide range of traditions, I discovered what worked for me. Morning Ritual:
I hold a cross in my hands, take a deep breath and in the exhale pray in Hebrew: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם (Blessed are You, God, King of the universe). Then I light a candle.
Morning reading (something Scripture-based).
Journal a reflection on the reading, or/and lay out what I want to work on that day (premeditatio malorum).
Undetermined time of silence.
I hold a cross in my hands, take a deep breath and in the exhale pray "Come with me." Then I blow out the candle.
I hold a cross in my hands, take a deep breath and in the exhale pray in Hebrew בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם (Blessed are You, God, King of the universe).
Evening Reading (A philosophical wisdom reading).
(optional) Journal reflections on my behavior that day. Reflect on how I responded, how I could have responded, and plan how to improve.
Breath in, and breathe out.
Instead of calling it "devotions", I now call it a "Devotional Meditative Practice."
Devotional in that the discipline is grounded in a "devotion" to something, mainly, God. Meditative takes on both Eastern (calm down) and Western (funny how that one didn't stress you out eh?) definitions. It is meditative in that it requires concentration, presence, focus, and reflection.
If you want to be more grounded, present, wise, and holy this is where it begins: Through intentional discipline of the soul. And to be clear, like I said before, this is not a legal thing, this is a grace. Our practice does not save us. But as Richard foster says, "It is critical for us to understand that the Spiritual Disciplines possess no moral rectitude or righteousness in and of themselves. They are, most definitely, not 'works righteousness,' as it is sometimes said. They place us—body, mind, and spirit—before God. That is all. The results of this process are all of God, all of grace." As Foster further states, our spiritual practices are a mere means of grace. The best thing we can do for ourselves is not be hard on ourselves when we miss a day or two. Being critical only leads to discouragement. Our aim is not to be perfect, but tov (good). God is not keeping tabs on our success. But like a muscle, it only gets stronger through consistency.
It has taken time but through trial and error, I found what worked for me. I want to encourage you, reader, to develop a Devotional Meditative Practice. Try mine out, or take it as a template for you, or build your own. It's interesting how we think that as long as we are not doubting God, doing "bad" things, and doing relatively well in our lives that we are "fine." Realize this: No one goes out of their way to become evil. No one wakes up in the morning and says, "today, I just want to be an impulsive, reactive, morally debased, wicked person." Yet we unconsciously think that we have to make that choice in order to be in a bad place. The real threat to our lives is what Socrates called "the unexamined life." Our goal is to develop a practice that looks up to the heavens but also looks deep inside with reverence and wonder. Life is like a current in an ocean and we are the boat. Unless we steer the boat, let down the sails, and catch the wind, we will slowly drift off course unconsciously. And before you know it, you are lost. If we are the boat, then God is the wind in the sails. God is the map that we follow. God is the stars, the moon, and the sun in the sky who aligns our journey. Our practice opens us to be lead.
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, Special Anniversary Edition (Harper One), p. VI).