Therefore, the Lord God, the holy one of Israel, says: In return and rest you will be saved; quietness and trust will be your strength— but you refused. Isaiah 30:15 (CEB)
When I was a new driver, aged 16, I hadn’t yet developed a comprehensive mental map of Montgomery County, Maryland, where we lived. If I started at home, I knew how to get to school, to my piano teacher’s house, to church, to my two best friends’ houses, and to the pool. But, I couldn’t travel from one of these places to another easily. And new places? Those were even trickier. Trips to new places or from one non-home place to another required pulling out the big ol’ 3-pound, spiral-bound ADC map of Washington, D.C. and the surrounding counties. Oh, yeah – no GPS, no cell phone. My trusty map travelled along with me in the station wagon at all times. Getting from location A-5 on one page of the map to location F-10 on another page was a process. When I didn’t follow all the steps, I could easily get lost and find it really challenging to get where I was trying to go.
If I started at home to a new place, my parents often would review my navigation efforts and add in helpful pointers of landmarks that I’d see along the way: “Oh, you’ll know you’re on track when you go by Blair High School,” or “It’s right by the pool where Divisional Relays were – do you remember that big sign they have?” They would also help me make judgement calls based upon their extensive experience driving in the region: “Well, the most direct route IS down 355 but there are SO many lights that this other road would be an easier drive,” or “You do NOT want to be on that part of the Beltway at five o’clock!” My mom and dad encouraged me as I got better at navigating and gave me helpful information to prepare me for my journey.
But, when I was navigating out and about I was on my own, and it was harder than starting from home with my parents’ guidance and encouragement. My worst episode of getting lost was when I was trying to meet up with friends to go swing dancing at our favorite spot just outside DC. I started out on the regular route; but, I must have gotten distracted while talking with the friend riding with me. I turned the wrong way on the Beltway and tried to correct course without pulling over and consulting the map. We ended up on a one-hour detour through Maryland and a part of DC where I had to speak through bars AND plexiglass to the gas station attendant before we finally found our way to the dance hall. Our friends were waiting for us and sent us straight to the pay phone to check in with my parents, who were quite worried when my friends called and informed them we hadn’t arrived as expected. It was such a relief to be back among friends at our planned destination! It was extra comfort to get a pointer from my parents on how to make it home after dancing without another lengthy detour. The next day, my parents and I had a map session where we worked out what had gone wrong to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. And it didn’t!
While it is now MUCH easier with smartphones to get where we want to go in our cars and avoid getting lost on the road, we can still definitely get lost – just in different ways. We can get lost from our purpose, become distracted, and get off course due to busyness. We can lose connection with our biological or church family due to conflict and turmoil. We can lose our way in our daily living choices and find ourselves in habits and lifestyles that run contrary to Jesus’ teachings. We can lose our faith – some life events shake us to the core and our early and often simplistic understanding of who God is collapses under the weight of tragedy. We can feel like we’ve lost contact with Jesus and God altogether. We’re never really lost to God, of course, who can always find us—and wants us to come home!—but sometimes we have no idea what route to take to get back.
My morning quiet time in prayer and solitude is when I daily walk and memorize the route home to God. In solitude, I can give my full attention to delving into scripture, allow God to speak those words into my heart, unburden my heart by sharing my struggles with God, and listen attentively to the direction and guidance God provides to prepare me for what I’m going to encounter.
In solitude, I root down into the love, mercy and wisdom that will carry me through my day. Later in the day, when I encounter a tricky situation or an upsetting scenario I can mentally and emotionally dip back into the comfort and strength I received in my time with God at the start of the day. When a confluence of events prevents me from having my morning prayer time my temper runs shorter, I have less to give, and I’m more easily thrown off course. Just like when I was a new driver, I get lost less frequently when I start my journeys with guidance and encouragement from One who is far wiser and more experienced than I am.
As I look back on my life, I notice that the seasons of my life without regular, intentional prayer in solitude are also those seasons when I was furthest from walking in Jesus’ footsteps. It seems that the longer I went without connecting to God in prayer, the more I fell into patterns of allowing the din of the world around me to crowd out God’s voice. Indeed, the longer I went without prayer and the further off course I veered, the harder I found it to even recognize God’s still small voice. Long absences were particularly damaging and coincided with the times of the greatest unnecessary suffering in my life. When I start from “home”—my daily time of solitude—it is much easier to navigate my days and my life because I am being led rather than wandering aimlessly.
As chaotic and challenging as my days sometimes are, they are a piece of cake compared to Jesus’ days! Notably, across multiple Gospel accounts, Jesus regularly walks away from the crush and never ending needs of the crowds to be restored and equipped for his ministry by his Heavenly Father. These prayer times sustain him throughout his ministry, even during the events of Holy Week. This Sunday we’ll look at what Jesus’ prayer time in solitude teaches us about how to pray and grow – this Lent and beyond. I look forward to seeing you in church!