Recently, over coffees and 1000-calorie donuts the size of our heads, a couple of friends and I discussed our morning spiritual routines. I expressed frustration, for the thousandth time, that establishing a morning routine of Bible reading / journaling / prayer / whatever is very difficult for me. And that I consistently feel shame as someone who has been a Christian her whole life that I have such a hard time carving out daily time to spend with God. I’m pretty sure I’ve actually had nightmares of being exposed in front of my Bible study for not doing my “quiet time” for an entire month (gasp!). Fortunately, my friends agreed that #thestruggleisreal and we all confessed that we felt stifled and burdened by the expectations around the morning quiet time in Christian circles. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a “quiet time,” here is my favorite snarkily honest definition from the wonderful writer Jamie Wright:

It’s kind of a sacred cow in ladies’ church circles. Originating from the ancient discipline of intentionally making space each day to commune with God, today ‘quiet time’ is a spiritual practice most often observed on social media: #quiettime pics usually include a lit candle sitting next to a cup of coffee with visible steam, or maybe a latte with foam art, and an open Bible, preferably out of focus. (It’s called a ‘quiet time’ because ‘candle and coffee time’ sounds stupid and ‘prayer time’ was apparently already taken.)

I have always struggled with this spiritual practice so praised by the evangelical church, so when I read this definition in Wright’s delectably rebellious and strikingly honest 2017 book The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever, I felt understood. Calling it her “public downfall” in the Christian world, she recounts a story in which she (somewhat accidentally) had a loud and explicit outburst about her gripe with the “quiet time” in her Christian moms Bible study. Basically, they were reading a book that instructed them that the solution to the struggle of having a “quiet time” every morning when life was busy and chaotic was to simply  “get up earlier.” When she confessed that she didn’t think “baby-brained, under-nourished, zombie moms” should be told to lose more sleep, the group leader shamed her for not making God her priority. She continues:

Heads on either side of her bobbed in agreement, and I knew I should just drop it. But I’m dumb, so I kept going. ‘Wait a sec,’ I said. ‘I love prayer. I’m, like, all about prayer. Prayer is my favorite! But I guess I just feel more convicted about being a bad mom because I’m too tired to care for my own kids than I do about getting up at four a.m. to sit in an empty kitchen reading the Bible by candlelight.’

Her reply was meant to sound friendly, but it had the icy edge of righteous indignation. Poking the air with her index finger, she said: ‘I guess I’d rather be a bad mom than a bad Christian.’

And then I dove across the table and punched her smug in the mouth.

Oh jeez, I’m kidding. Relax. I (probably) would never do that.

Actually, I just sat there in silence …

Finally, I asked, ‘Why does it have to be quiet? … Why can’t I spend time with God while I’m running the dishwasher and boiling water and chopping onions for dinner and the TV is blaring to keep my kids occupied? […] If my life is loud, why can’t I just be loud with God?’

The group leader couldn’t offer her much of a response; “quiet” was just what “good Christians” were supposed to do. This passage is both hilarious and so relatable these days, it brings tears to my eyes. For the record, I’m not a mom, but even those of us who are not mothers with little children can relate to this. Especially in quarantine. For the past few months, I have been living at home with my parents and little brother Matt — who has a range of disabilities, and is unable to walk or talk — and it has been both joyful and chaotic. Matt makes a lot of noise, and is at home 24/7 thanks to the pandemic, so our home has been very loud these past few months. I would bet that most of our home environments are louder these days with everyone home a lot more often. Sometimes, the idea of a “quiet time” doesn’t even seem feasible. 

As Wright herself also clarifies, it is not that she or I are anti-quiet time. It’s that the point of having a “quiet time” is really to pray and spend intentional time with God. While it is certainly healthy and great when we can be still and silent before our Creator with our Bibles open and coffee and pen in hand, sometimes our life doesn’t allow much time or space for that luxury. But there is hope to be found here. Wright goes on to say,

God is with us. Like, day in and day out, in the chaos and the noise and the silliness of life. He is there […] God is not withholding himself from us, waiting for us to come to him in the wee hours of the morning as a measure of our devotion! … I will listen for God’s voice in the wilderness, and at the water park, and under McDonald’s indoor play structure, because that is my daily loud time and God is faithful to meet me in the chaos.

God, Immanuel, is with us. He is with us in the stillness and in the disarray, in the quiet and in the loud. The way in which we commune with God every day does not have to meet a specific mold of a proper “quiet time.” He doesn’t ask us to clean up or shape up before coming to Him, or withhold His presence from us until our lives are suitable enough. If He did that, none of us would ever be able to come to Him, anyway.

Jamie Wright

With that in mind, I’ve created a short list of a few prayers and poems that have encouraged me in quarantine — ones that I pray when I’m cooking or driving or going about my daily activities. I’ve found that when my life is especially noisy and messy, prayer feels a lot easier when I can use someone else’s words:

1. Mary Oliver, “Praying”

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Mary Oliver is always here to remind us that our prayers to God do not need to be “elaborate,” refined, or high-flying. God can handle our unkempt prayers (and hair). And sometimes getting outside to appreciate the small moments in nature really is the most sacred spiritual practice.

2. Anne Lamott, “Help. Thanks. Wow.”

The incredibly wise and witty Anne Lamott, a recovering alcoholic who keeps it very real, wrote a whole book on these three prayers. She strongly believes that “there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.” Amen to that! These three words can do a lot for us — we need God’s merciful help every day, we have much to thank Him for, and we have much to be in awe of. I find that “help, thanks, wow” covers most ground in my everyday life and needs. 

3. A Prayer from Henri Nouwen:

Dear God,

I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love —
unconditional, everlasting love.

Amen.

Oh, Henri Nouwen, always here to assure us of our belovedness in God’s eyes. I like this prayer because it acknowledges our fear and doubt, and asks God to gently unclasp our tight grip on control. After all, the one in control is the one who loves us with an everlasting love.

4. Anne Lamott, again

God, Please help me not be such an asshole […] Am I too far gone, or can you help me get out of my isolated self-obsession?

Lamott deserves a second entry on this list because she just really gets to the core of our humanity, best put into words through her low anthropology prayers. Recently, I lost it on my mom for feeding my little brother half of one of the grape tomatoes I had sliced for my salad … I’m not even going to try to justify that one. I would blame it on the global pandemic making me crazy, but I’m pretty sure it’s just me. I really need God’s help to not be a self-obsessed asshole sometimes.

5. Matthew 6:9-13, The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. 

I had to include at least one old classic on here! But really, Jesus — who knows that “we do not know what we ought to pray for” (Rom 8:26) — literally gave us this prayer to pray when we could use some guidance. You may well already have it memorized from church or possibly school. God’s Word further assures us that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans,” so we can be confident that even when we don’t say everything, the Spirit knows our hearts, minds, and needs and can communicate them to God.

Lamott eloquently stated that “prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up.” We can even show up angry — Lamott assures us that “God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation.” Even if your prayer is “I don’t like You at all right now,” God can handle it, and it may be the most honest prayer you’ve prayed in a while.

We can show up disheveled, disorderly, and maybe even disinterested, and God will meet us there. God can meet us at the traffic line as we pray for patience for the old woman driving slower than the speed limit in front of us, or in the stillness of early morning light. He is there when we are wiping runny noses, walking dogs, and trying to keep our sanity while cooped up in quarantine. He will accept our own words or someone else’s, our “quiet time” and our “loud time.” 

Thank you, God, that you are faithful to meet us in the quiet — and in the chaos. Amen.