I got a Facebook message from a friend this week asking me what I thought was a really interesting question that related to some of the blogs I've been writing about church and my relationship with God. I asked them if it would be OK if I wrote about their message and my response in my blog this week, and they said sure.
So here's what they asked:
Hey, I have a random question. I'm at a place where I think I just want to kind of "rest" in God. I don't want to worry about pouring into other people or hopping into ministry commitments, I just kinda wanna recharge spiritually. But I also don't want to just sit around doing nothing. What I think I want to do is set aside a weekly "date" with God, where I just spend time hanging out with Him. No obligations, no "I need to study this" things, just getting to know Him and rest in Him. But... I'm not sure what the best way is to DO that. Do you have any ideas on how to? Do you have any experiences of ways that you connect with God without feeling forced to follow a specific method? I don't know if my question makes any sense, but I figured I'd ask. I guess I feel like I've done everything over and over and I'm just looking for something new, if that makes sense.
This, essentially, is something I've been trying to cultivate in my own life in the past six or seven years, especially as I've been on-and-off withdrawing from church. Sometimes I've been successful at keeping this element in my relationship with God, other times not so much, but I definitely have lots of things that I've tried and loved and found to be really helpful in my time with him. So I'm happy to share my experiences here.
Now, granted, these are just my experiences. Some of these things I tried and didn't like, some may only work for me -- everyone's relationship with God can and should look a little different. So none of this should be taken as a "THIS IS HOW IT WORKS" blog.
1. Eliminate distractions.
Whatever this means for you. For me, it often means being someplace where I couldn't hear other people's conversations or where I could talk out loud without being heard. If I couldn't physically get away, I'd at least put on non-distracting music loudly enough that I couldn't hear the things going on around me and I'd face away from people so I wouldn't feel the urge to people watch. Library study rooms are great for this, as are quiet corners of parks.
2. Do things with God.
This may sound like an incredibly vague suggestion, but for me, I found that one of the best ways for me to really get a sense of God's presence and resting in him throughout the day was to do things I loved to do, and invite God to do them with me. They didn't have to be spiritual things in and of themselves. I just had to have a sense of doing them with God there beside me. I remember watching Annie Hall one time -- one of my all-time favorite movies -- and getting a sudden sense that God was there with me, watching it too and enjoying our time together. It was a wonderfully intimate time with him that didn't involve any of the usual churchy things I'd think of when I thought of "spending time with God."
Since then, I have made more of a conscious effort to invite God into the things I'm do, particularly when I'm really enjoying them. It makes me very aware of the small blessings God places in my life and heightens my awareness of Him in general.
In contrast, this may seem like an obvious one, but prayer is a great way to spend time with God. The key here is to not worry about developing prayer so much as a discipline -- "now I will confess my sins, now I will pray for my needs, now I will thank God," etc. Just talk to him. About anything and everything. My most intimate times with God would probably look crazy to the people around me because I'll often be chattering away for awhile, and then I go suddenly silent as I listen or mull over what I think God is saying.
Along with the whole idea of talking to God, this is often followed (for me) by time for just listening. This can also take many forms. Journaling is great -- it lets me write down thoughts I think God might be putting in my head, or write out verses that seem to be speaking to me. Then as I stare at them on the page, I find clarity.
One form of listening that has been incredibly healing and restful for me comes in the form of music. I connect with God very strongly through music, and I have playlists of songs that fall under the "things God says to me" category. Some of these are overtly Christian ("A Little Longer" by Brian & Jenn Johnson remains one of my favorites) while others are decidedly not ("I'd Give It All For You" from Songs for a New World has long connected with me as a sort of back-and-forth love song between myself and God).
I have a vivid memory of one time a few years ago when I dutifully went to church, found myself overpeopled very quickly, and sneaked out the back door to go sit in the church's back yard under a tree. I had my iPod with me and spent the hour-long church service just listening to these songs that spoke to me. Not singing along with them or analyzing, just listening and letting them be the words God was saying. I remember crying, I remember a sense of peace washing over me as I let God's love flow through me, I remember sitting in complete silence for about 15-20 minutes at the end, perfectly content to just sit there with God.
This one may be more specific to me, but I do urge most people to try it at least occasionally, because I think it can be an invaluable part of worship. The idea is to respond to God and his goodness and his love with some sort of creative outpouring of my own. Don't create for anyone else, don't create with a set of standards in mind, just... express yourself how you choose.
For me, I wrote song lyrics. Many were not good, many were not even coherent, but it became a tangible expression of my response to God, one that didn't have to hit the right words or the right chords. For others, this may mean bringing a sketchbook or a digital camera or finding a place where you can dance freely. Too often we just absorb the creativity of others or repeat their prayers, but there's something really beautiful in creating something of our own to give back to God.
6. Keep a list of things that work for you.
These are some of the things that I do most often while seeking a time of just "resting" in God. There are more -- reading psalms, meditating on hymn lyrics, taking walks, journaling, focusing on thanking God for specific people in my life -- and every time I discover something new, I write it down. I have a list of techniques that I know have sometimes connected me to God in the past, and although it's not like each one of them works each time, I have options to go to. That way, when I want to have some downtime with God, I can escape, looking at my list, and ask, "What do I want to do most with God today?" Then I let impulse (or, hopefully, the Holy Spirit) speak to me. It means I don't clear my schedule and get away only to find myself thinking, "Now what?"
These are a few of the techniques and methods I've used over the years to incorporate resting in God into my life. They've been helpful and productive for me and given me some amazing times alone with Jesus. Hopefully some of these will do the same for some of you, as well as inspire you to find new and unique-to-you ways of connecting with God.
How about you guys? Do you have any suggestions? What are some of your favorite things to do when you just want to rest in God's presence?