Meeting God in the margins.

If you’ve been around for a while, you may have picked up on a something about me. For decades I’ve struggled with an internal pressure to perform. Excel. Do well. Publicly. To this day, it is a temptation I fall prey to—though less so now than before. I want others to think well of me, to believe I’ve got it under control, and to say kind things about me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with excelling at something, working with excellence or even desiring to be liked. But. When our desire to be viewed favorably by others replaces our willingness to rest in the truth that we are already favored by God—it has become an idol.

It’s a natural human tendency to desire the admiration of others and I won’t deny it’s true in my own experience. We do things to earn the affection of others and be liked. We send cards, make phone calls, give gifts, meet people for coffee, work hard, make sacrifices, send GIFs, and spend time. It’s how we cultivate relationships.

You might have read that and felt defensive—it’s okay. I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m simply pointing out something that is already there—a desire to love and be loved. With humans, we need to demonstrate that we are trustworthy, kind, and open to a relationship. With God, we don’t have to prove ourselves or earn love. We simply have to be open. We are the joy set before him—no strings attached.

It’s easy to know how to connect with people, but what about God? I talked about ways we can connect with God when we have extended time. You can read more about that here. I equate those practices (and others like them) to a long chat with a dear friend on the couch with dessert—always with dessert. But God isn’t going to chill with us on a couch for hours though, is he. I mean you could argue that if we sit on the couch in God’s presence, then it could work, but I think you know what I’m getting at. There isn’t an opportunity for physical connection like there is with another human. That’s okay.

Aside from the reality that we cannot physically meet with God in the same way we do with another human, we also seem to allocate more time to those things that we physically engage in. Like when something is physical, it earns hours. When something is spiritual, it earns minutes. For example, I’ll give myself thirty minutes to work out, an hour for a coffee date, two hours to study, or three hours for a hair appointment. The physical reality is that there are things going on and often, I am going from one good and necessary thing to the next. I’m working, I’m educating my children, tending to human relationships, managing my home, and taking care of myself.

I don’t often allocate that amount of time to God. I do in spurts, like while on retreats or when I’m in a healthy place. More often it looks like spending five minutes in prayer here, ten minutes reading scripture there, fifteen minutes journaling here, twenty minutes in silence there. Here’s the thing though—why are we worried about how much time we are spending with God? Is it because we understand the long-term benefits of following after Jesus every day or are we trying to earn the affection and favor of the one who already knows and loves us despite our busy lives?

If I’m being honest, sometimes it’s both and maybe it’s that way for you too. I understand the beautiful, abundant life available to me as I engage more deeply with Jesus and I desire to live that life daily. Sometimes I’m more tempted to go for an “A” in discipleship than rest in the truth of his unconditional love. When life gets busy and it looks like an “A” isn’t achievable, I will sometimes disconnect completely. Like if I can’t be the best, I simply won’t engage because then I can’t fail.

Nadia Bolz-Weber recently said, “Help me remember that I’m not being graded, I’m being guided.” So what is the alternative to the all or nothing path of discipleship? Meeting God in the margins.

Yes—time spent with God is valuable, but we don’t have to choose quality over quantity. There are seasons when we have the freedom or desire (or both) to connect with God over extended periods of time, but there are also seasons where we barely have five seconds to ourselves. When we connect with God in the margins of our lives, we are inviting his guidance in the small and seemingly insignificant moments. Oftentimes, those are the connection points I remember the most.

For example, last week as I was driving in the car running errands,. They boys were bickering in the back seat and I was struggling to get my them under control. They were being incredibly loud and I was growing agitated. If you can relate—here’s my virtual fist bump.

Instead of making a mental note to find a passage in scripture to meditate on for the next week about how to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me, I simply prayed: Jesus, I’m annoyed and I’m about to lose my $#^{ on these kids. Help me. That’s it. Did it miraculously calm the storm in the back seat? No. Did it immediately transform my attitude? No. Did it redirect my attention to the One who offers peace? Yes.

The writer of Hebrews assures us that we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb 4:16 ESV). The writer doesn’t say to draw near to the throne of grace and prepare to spend three hours to prove we are worthy of approaching. He says draw near. We have direct access to the throne of God at any point—even if only for a moment. We are not being graded on how we approach the throne or for how long. We are approaching the throne to connect and receive guidance and God will always offer mercy and grace.

So what other margins are we talking about? You might have five minutes while you wait for the coffee to brew. You might spend a few minutes in prayer on a break from work. Maybe you’ll begin listening to worship music while you wait in the car for your kid to finish at the orthodontist. Perhaps you can skip watching your fourth episode of Schitt’s Creek (guilty) and spend that last twenty minutes before bed simply reading a passage of scripture or being quiet. Or maybe, like me, you start by waking up each morning and simply acknowledge God’s guiding presence.

Here’s a simple question to ask yourself as you ponder meeting God in your margins: what are you already doing every day and how can you weave God into the equation? It doesn’t have to be elaborate to be worthwhile—God simply desires our attention.

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