The way you approach devotional times might change based on your season of life. And that's OK.
The only time I’ve ever read the Bible all the way through was my freshman year of college. It was a great exercise but not one I’m liable to ever repeat.
In college, my devotional times were when I could find a quiet moment and a quiet space in between classes, work and meals. As the years have gone by, I’ve progressed through various seasons of life—grad student, single professional, young married professional, mom of littles and now mom of a tween and a grade schooler. Journeying through those stages, I’ve come to realize how different the practice of daily devotions looks in those various seasons. And I’ve learned to apply three things that have helped build a rich devotional life, regardless of life’s changing seasons.
Give Yourself Grace
Each life stage has its own challenges. In college, it was not having a routine schedule and no longer having Mom and Dad to prod me. Attending a Bible college, some of what I read was directly related to class assignments and I questioned whether that was legit. But I came to realize that those times taught me to enjoy some of the more academic elements of Bible study, made me journal daily (I had to turn it in to prove I’d done the reading) and gave me a plethora of opportunities to discuss what I was learning with my classmates.
Later, as a newly married gal working part time, I enjoyed extended time with God on my days at home. I recognized that season as a gift and enjoyed the time to read, journal, play the piano and worship with no distractions.
Then came the kids and distractions galore. As I tried to read while jiggling a baby or pray without falling asleep, I remembered listening to moms talk at a seminar about how different time with God was when you have kids. One shared how she simply tried to get out for a walk several times a week and pray as she went. Another talked about memorizing verses while walking the baby in the stroller. Recalling these examples helped me grant myself grace when my devotional time was praying out loud while rocking my baby or reading a Bible passage to both of us instead of a board book.
Now I’m a mom of older kids and no longer sleep-deprived. I get up early and have a true quiet time with God. But as I’m also trying to train my children in the habit of spending time with God, I’ve had to extend them the grace to share that time with me. I’m learning to respond with kindness when they have a thought to share or need help understanding what they are reading. It’s a grace tradeoff worth making.
God speaks to us in such a variety of ways—his Word, creation, the words of others, music. So, when it comes to time with him, it makes sense that we should apply creativity as well. It is good to grant ourselves the time and space to try different things and to realize that what our friend/spouse/roommate does and loves may not work for us or for this season of our lives.
As a college student, I needed to find routine and a quiet space. As a young mom, I needed to think outside the box. When I had only one baby, I did my best to get my house cleaning done during nap time the first three days of the week. This allowed me to take the fourth day to simply sit with a hot drink and have extended, uninterrupted time with God. Sure, there were a million other things to do, but that time was a gift and I took advantage of it.
By the time my second child came along, I was homeschooling the first one, and that fourth day of the week (and the fifth) was taken up with lesson planning. Time to think creatively again. I realized I had to get out of the house to be able to have a focused time with God. So one night a week, I left the baby in the care of my husband and headed to the library. I found a quiet room and for an hour or two I read and wrote to my heart’s content. The rest of my devotional time was pretty hit or miss, but that extended time sustained me until the boy and I were sleeping through the night and a regular routine could be established again.
For some, time isn’t the issue. It’s how to spend that time.
I realized early on that if I read but didn’t journal I might as well not have read at all. I’ve also learned that while I love reading and journalling, the practice of prayer is incredibly difficult for me. Over time, I’ve realized I pray much better when I am doing something that engages the part of my brain that would otherwise be thinking about my to-do list. So when I pray, I either knit or color. That helps me so much.
For some, a physical connection to prayer brings things to focus. I have friends for whom the combination of praying and walking is incredibly helpful. For others, walking is the perfect time to memorize Scripture.
A meaningful devotional time doesn’t happen without putting thought into it.
For some, a day-by-day reading plan works really well. If that’s you, praise God and try to keep up. But others, like myself, may prefer to define themselves as an eclectic reader. I value the Word and make sure I am reading it at least twice a week. At certain points in the year I thoughtfully consider what God might want me to be reading in the Bible (a certain book, a particular area of study) and ask him to speak to me about specific things as I read.
I also recognize that I need encouragement in the roles God has given me—wife and mom. I often spend one day a week reading something related to those roles. I also read a book one morning each week not only because of the content but also because I enjoy the writing. As a lover of language, I value books that are written beautifully and thoughtfully.
My husband, on the other hand, is not a big reader. He’s tried journalling and it has never worked for him. But over the last six months he has begun watching John Piper’s “Look at the Book
” and is hooked. For him, the combination of technology and truth has been incredibly encouraging. He loves the visual aspect of Piper’s teaching as it makes the Word come alive for him.
It can also be helpful to thoughtfully determine whether some relational aspect would bring devotions alive for you. I’m an introvert and I usually want that time alone. But in the early years of mothering, I realized it would be a very good thing for me to have spiritual interaction with others. I also knew I would do more if I had a class to attend. So, at least once a year for three or four years I joined a women’s Bible study. Some were more intensive than others but they all helped guide me in the Word at a time when I was struggling to do that on my own. If you need that, opportunities abound (Summitview’s classes
ministries, Bible Study Fellowship
There can also be good in simply reading something and asking someone else to read with you. There have been times when my husband and I have read the same book of the Bible and shared what we were learning. I’ve had friends move away and we’ve read the same book and shared our thoughts via email. Right now I’m reading a book with one of the gals who lives with us. Despite living in the same house, we are often running in opposite directions. Taking time to sit down once a month to talk about what we are learning from our shared book helps us have spiritual conversations and builds a connection we otherwise wouldn’t have.
Creativity, thoughtfulness and grace. We aren’t called to be cookie-cutter Christians. But we are called to seek the heart of God (Ecclesiastes 1:13, I Chronicles 22:19, Matthew 6:33, Luke 12:31). Whatever your season of life, I pray that God can encourage you in applying those three elements to your devotional life this year.