I started teaching full-time in October. Prior to this, I had primarily been either a student or a stay-at-home mom, which meant I was consistently able to dedicate a good chunk of time to “being with Jesus” in Word and prayer. Of course, that’s looked different in different seasons—getting up before the kiddos, taking advantage of afternoon naps, or setting aside time after the school drop-offs, but finding time in this new season has been a fight.
I could get up earlier, but I haven’t figured out how to go to bed earlier. We have active teenagers in the house. Family meals last until near 9:00pm. My DNA group meets at 8:30pm. And I’m already sleeping at least an hour less than I should.
I’ve still tried to pursue fellowship with Jesus despite the confines of getting to work at 7:10am, attempting to do the impossible for eight hours—love and teach a hundred teenagers, having a slew of activities after work, and being bone-tired by the time my day winds down. On my drive, I listen to one chapter of Philippians (though I had originally intended to memorize the book) and gospel-centered music (if I’m up for the radio battle with the teenager who rides with me). Most days I pray a blessing for our day before I get out of the car. I have a box of Bible verses on my desk, which I try to meditate on throughout the day. I use, really use, that moment of silence before the pledge—that prayer is often a desperate cry for help. I (try to) set aside my lunch break for more focused Bible reading and prayer, but it’s often disrupted by meetings or visiting students or derailed by my monkey mind.
It’s something I’ve had to grieve. Being with Jesus doesn’t look like it did before.
God’s Surprising Comfort
Yet, in my (resistant, pitiful, pathetic) mourning, God has comforted me (Matt. 5:9).
A few weeks ago I had perfunctorily started reading a chapter in Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, before bed. The chapters are short enough to complete without passing out mid-page. One evening last week after a particularly rough day, I came across a passage in Francis de Sales’ Introduction to Devotion: “Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl, and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, activities, and duties of each person.” He goes on, “True devotion….does no injury to one’s vocation or occupation, but on the contrary adorns and beautifies it.”
These words of truth were like a balm for my sorrow-filled soul.
My devotional life can thrive within the limitations of my vocation. My practices don’t have to mirror those of someone in vocational ministry or a different season of life, and the fact that my time with Jesus doesn’t look the same as someone who I deem as “truly spiritual” doesn’t prevent me from being a faithful disciple-maker within my home, church, and community. I have to (re)accept the truth that my devotion to Jesus and His presence with me is not dictated by the following formula: spiritual discipline X minutes spent = true devotion.
Like many others who revere the disciplines of grace, de Sales discusses the connection between our love for God and others. He uses the image of a ladder. As we climb up toward God, we are called to go down, to extend charity to our neighbor, and in the trials of extending charity to our neighbors, we are called to go up, to seek again “loving union with God.” Therefore, my work as an educator in a public school will be blessed as my love for Christ arouses me “to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible.”
The Mission of God Unifies Devotion and Vocation
My idol-manufacturing heart tempts me to trust in “phantoms of true devotion”—my selfish, prideful pursuit of spiritual disciplines for the sake of appearing holy. It tempts me to believe that my everyday mission is at odds with being with Jesus.
But the life of Jesus tells a different story. He found time to be alone with His Father in the daily rhythms of doing His Father’s will, of giving Himself up for the people He came to save.
As Foster says in his reflection on de Sales’ words, true devotion isn’t adding “a series of religious duties…to an already overcommitted schedule.” It is “a head-over-heels, white-hot love of God” and “a strength free of guile to serve others.”
The mission of God calls us to heed the words of Ephesians 4:1-3, which The Message paraphrases so well: “I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”
And it is only through the “oneness” of God and our “oneness” with Him that we are empowered to live out those words (Ephesians 4:4-6).