Psalm 42: 1-5 (The Message)
1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks
from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it—
arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears—
tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long
people knock at my door,
“Where is this God of yours?”
4 These are the things I go over and over,
emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
right out in front,
Leading them all,
eager to arrive and worship,
Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!
5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.
I used to love going to church. Sundays were my favorite day of the week. Worshiping God, reciting ancient prayers, receiving the Eucharist–what a perfect way to end a weekend and get ready for the week ahead.
And then I started working on Sundays. For a church.
Worship went from a joy to an obligation, from an opportunity to enjoy the Divine, to drudgery. Often, I wouldn’t even really get a chance to sing or to contemplate God, because I would be too busy running around all Sunday morning. I would remind myself that service was worship and that God is present with us in our vocations, but the reality week after week was that other than the enjoyment of the people I served, it was work. Hard work.
Eventually this sense of obligation began to spill over into other areas of my spiritual life. Now I just feel tired, longing for God to restore the joy of my salvation.
So that’s why I’ve decided to start playing hooky.
I recently read an article about Marie Kondo’s nearly cult-like following. The piece described real women who literally shed physical weight as they shed their clutter using her “Kon-Mari” method of “tidying.” Disciples of her method are instructed to get rid of (respectfully, and with gratitude) anything that doesn’t “spark joy.”
I’ve been inspired to do the same. Not with my stuff (although, maybe one day), but with my spiritual junk and baggage.
Like an old nun’s closet, I’ve acquired several (spiritual) habits over the past few years. These practices once fit me so well! Not only did they spark so much joy, they were means through which God grew some good “fruit” in my life. They were tailored perfectly to a season in my life in which I needed a lot of spiritual discipline and in which I felt called to offer more and more of my life to God.
I developed a regular habit of meditative, prayerful, scripture-reading and journaling that would take up about 40-60 minutes of my mornings (of course I had a lifestyle/job that was conducive to this).
I began a regular practice of contemplation and prayer practices, like centering prayer, lectio divina, and silent retreats. I gave sacrificially and advocated for justice. I attended church, as well as a small group Bible study on a weekly basis.
Notice a pattern? All of those practices were ways in which I would initiate in my relationship with God. I mean, I know that God drew me to these things first and met me through them, but so much of what I was doing eventually became focused on well, what I was doing. Though I didn’t believe that these things made me righteous, they were responses to the thirst I was feeling. But eventually they became less a means to an end, and more of an end unto themselves. No, I knew they didn’t make me righteous. But doing them sure as hell made me feel like I was righteous.
For years, during the different times I worked for churches, I would joke that I was a “professional church lady.” Over time this humorous label became more and more of my identity. For years, my prayer had been that my main identity would be based on God’s love for me. As I dove more and more into what that might mean, deploying more and more spiritual practices and habits, I noticed that it was the diving that became my identity.
When I began to pay attention to the exhaustion I was experiencing, it was clear that my attitude toward the habits and disciplines that once sparked joy, was now snuffing it out. You should not have to work so hard to maintain something that you didn’t earn in the first place. God certainly didn’t need me to do that.
The verse, “be still and know that I am God” always makes me think about pausing the busyness of my life: the socializing, watching TV, reading my phone, etc. Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if that call to stillness now means taking a break from the “work” I was doing–the “God projects” as Eugene Peterson calls those things we do to make ourselves feel righteous. Those things keep us from really knowing that God is God.
I don’t think I’ll always play hooky from those spiritual disciplines and I’m sure that I will once again pick up some of the good habits I had developed. But when I do, I want to know that instead of dressing myself up in those habits, it is God who clothes me in righteousness and who sparks the joy of my salvation.