This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

A balancing act in life

Modern life is definitely fast-paced. We have cities that never sleep. We race around until we are about to have a nervous breakdown because we are out of time and energy and there are hardly any items checked off of the to-do list.

Why? Why are we stressing ourselves so much with a multitude of demands on our time?

It most likely comes back to our Western culture. Our values include things such as more is better and survival of the fittest. We have become so used to the frantic paces of our lives that we struggle to spend any quiet time because it leaves us feeling like we should be busy. That we are somehow being lazy. We have forgotten how to engage in sabbath times. This is greatly affecting our ability to spend quality time in relationship with God.

I have been reading this month a book by Paul E. Miller called A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World as part of my reading assignments for the Fellows Program. He points out that one of the reasons we fail at prayer is because when we can’t stand to stop long enough:

American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray. We are so busy that when we slow down to pray, we find it uncomfortable. We prize accomplishments, production. But prayer is nothing but talking to God. It feels useless, as if we are wasting time. Every bone in our bodies screams, “Get to work.” – pg 15

It pains me to admit it, but I am in this category. I consistently struggle to find space for consistent prayer times in my life. I have the best intentions, but still continue to be more of a conversational pray-er more than anything else.

By this I mean that I have little conversations with God throughout the day. For example, when I am in the car driving to or from work. Or when I am in the latest battle of wills with Mr. Max (my son). When I lie down in bed at night.

I also frequently do what Mr. Miller refers to as breath prayers, which are quick phrases said in a single breath (pg 68). So it is not unusual for me to say a quick prayer like, “Lord, give me strength” or “Lord, help me learn patience” as I go about my day.

However, a quiet time of prayer daily seems to still be eluding me. I am determined to change this because I can feel the presence of God during these quick times of prayer, and it makes me want to have that feeling more often! I tend to be a highly emotional person who can be a little high-strung. How much more effective could I be as a woman of God if I could feel his calming presence more regularly in my days?

So what is keeping me from devoting this time to be in relationship with God each day? It is my crazy 21st-century life. Even though I have cut back my involvement in things significantly both in my home life and my church life, there are still many responsibilities that have to be attended to:

  • Taking care of my husband and son
  • Taking care of our home
  • Working a full-time job as a department manager for a redistribution company
  • My studies and assignments for the C.S. Lewis Fellows Program
  • Church ministries I am still part of
  • Exploring the writing nudges God has placed on my heart
  • Exercising and self-care
  • Quiet times for prayer and Bible study

These areas of my life take up a huge chunk of my time. I am pretty sure that no matter how hard or how often I pray for it, God will not provide me with more hours in the day! So that means I am going to have to be more intentional with my time if I want to squeeze it all in.

As the busy season for me at work dies down, I am now going to turn my focus to this list of priorities in my life. They are all important areas of who I am and who God is calling me to be. So cutting anything from this list isn’t an option.

So what can I do to make these things happen?

To start with, I need to take a look at the distractions in my life. One important item to cut are the ministries that I am involved with that God is no longer calling me to be a part of. I have struggled with this greatly these past couple of months. It has been a hard lesson for me to learn that while all ministry endeavors are good, not all of them are part of God’s plan for me at this time in my life.

Have you ever read the poem about people who come into your life? Some are there for a reason, some for a season, and some are there for life. I have discovered that this also applies to ministries I am involved with!

Some I have been called to for a reason. God had a lesson for me to learn there, but now it is time to let the ministry go because I have received the intended lesson. Others I have been called to for a season and will continue with these areas, like being a worship leader. And still others I will be a part of for life. So I have been slowly learning to let go of the areas of church life that I served in for just a reason or a season that has now ended. These have been some of the hardest lessons I have learned to date.

Through my prayer conversations to and from work I am also realizing that I spend too much precious time watching unnecessary television. So if I want to find more time for the priorities I have identified above, specifically more consistent quiet times with God through prayer and Bible study and exercising and self-care, then I need to not waste time watching reruns of shows I really could not care less about. Cutting down in this area can help in two ways:

  • free up time in the evening after dinner to devote to exercise
  • get me to bed earlier so that I can wake up a little earlier each morning to incorporate the quiet times

In addition to these two items, I realized that I will also need to be more intentional with our weekly meal planning. I need to be considering healthy meal choices while also keeping in mind prep times. This will enable me to quickly take care of meal times for my family but also leave some free space in the evenings.

So there it is.

Most likely I will need to keep coming back and surrendering myself in prayer for the Father’s guiding hands in my life as I plan out how to use the valuable time he has given me each day. This balancing act has been and will continue to be a struggle for me, but this time I am giving it to God and asking for his help.

I can do all things through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13) when I take the time to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10) and his plans for me are for my welfare and will give me hope for the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

Shannon Martin is an active member of Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, Ohio, and a Fellow with The C.S. Lewis Institute of Northeast Ohio Fellows Program. She writes at Wisdom Wanderings, where this post first appeared.

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