Monday, February 4, 2008

Daily devotions

Daily devotions.

I wish I could extract the meaning of the cliché from my mind and re-build from just the base words that compose it. If “daily devotions” weren’t a cliché, I would be astounded when someone asked, "How are your daily devotions going?” I recognize that the church has used the term "devotion" for hundreds of years; I just can’t forthrightly use it to describe what I do.

I understand the cliché to mean:
- reading one's Bible
- praying
- writing in a journal to God or about godly things
And, like a skeleton with the above appendages dangling from the logical places, is the teaching I have heard every teacher espouse when discoursing on the topic: There is real merit in doing these things with little to no heart behind them. One day your heart will catch up with your practices.

Okay. I buy that. I think the principle, "Do what you can and trust God to bring you spiritual life" is good. I just don't think the term "daily devotions" fits that definition. What I just described would be better called, "daily check-in" or "daily timecard" or "daily practice."

"Devotion" is just the wrong word. If a lover says to her beloved, "I am devoted to you," I don't think she means, "I'll pick up the mail." "I'll change the oil in your car." "I'll wash your dishes."

No, "I am devoted to you," means, "The force of my entire self is for you." It's the sort of thing people say when they marry and hardly ever else. I'm not remotely attempting that daily. If I can maintain the analogy, I may be taking the shirts to the cleaners or making a run to the post office. If this seems pathetic, like learning to bowl with a Fisher Price set of pins, I can only agree. I have no expectation to drum-up devotion, daily.

I actually think that only God could make devotion out of what I'm doing. I think, “practice” is to “devotion” what “study” is to “genius”. “Genius” is fortune; it's a "gift"; it's something you can't drum-up. I daily practice, daily exert, daily punch-in, but I'm counting on Him to bring the daily devotion.

But if that’s pathetic, it gets worse. Wait until you hear what I consider legitimate "practice":
- As I lay West in his crib, this rote prayer, "Dear Jesus, protect us in every adventure. May we walk with you in every adventure."
- Every few days, reading a couple of pages in my Bible and stopping with a natural break in the text.
- Whispering as I walk by West's room, douse the hall light and crawl under the covers, "Thank you, God, for West. We are so grateful for his life."
- Listening with a soft heart to a friend who says, " I don't think you should ever talk to Sam in anger."
- Apologizing to Sam for talking to him in anger.
- Cleaning the shower.
- Making a meal for others, even if I grumble while doing it (because the act of service, though a lesser act for the grumbling, is still “practice”).
- Tipping big even if the waitress doesn’t know I’m a Christian.

My girlfriend with twin one-and-a-half-year-old boys was talking to me about joining her church's weekly Bible study. Her angst is over the nap she will miss. The boys will nap while in child care and she may miss that single hour of "Quick, there is no one who needs constant supervision, do that thing you need to do now!" I didn't ask her, " Isn't God more important than calling the dentist to get the details about your filling?" No, instead, out popped, "Well, if you need someone to help guilt you into that, you are talking to the wrong person!" I think she needs that hour! Ideally, to sleep! If she can't sleep, then to vegetate through a magazine. If not that, then to call the dentist with hope that her call will take a little edge off of the 16 hours a day of tornado supervision.

If I could change one thing about my daily "practice", I wouldn't do more (If I could change two things, I might do more). Rather, I'd like what I do to be whole. "Do" with cognizance, with an open heart, with ears that hear. I still couldn't call that "devotion", exactly, it hasn't got the impassioned force necessary to justify the word, but it could be good solid practice.

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