I’ve kept my regular routine at the gym, but due to a back injury (which is healing, thankfully!) I’ve been relegated to the squishy track that circles the place where people really exercise. I’m walking fast, but I’m only walking. No offense to those of you who walk to work out! For me, more aggressive exercise is a stress reliever and helps keep me feeling great. In short, I am missing the sweat.
I feel a twinge of guilt as I go to shower. Some people are really sweating at the gym, and I am taking up space in a locker room shower. Some days I feel slightly ridiculous. I remind myself that it will change soon – I will lift weights again, and rejoin the center of the gym where the more aggressive workouts happen. But not today. Today, I am marking time.
I am marking time because, if I don’t keep coming to the gym, it will slide off my calendar like hot butter slides off a dinner roll. I have to mark time to keep the time. So I show up, and I walk.
Last time I was rapidly circling the track, it occurred to me that sometimes I mark time spiritually.
I think this is somewhat universal. I’m talking about the mornings I show up to read the Bible, but don’t wait expectantly for God’s voice or invite the Word to read me. The Sundays I drag myself out of bed and meander into church, remembering I should be there, but forgetting that it is lifegiving. Nights when I drive to small group or a ministry event because I “have to” without the joy of “wanting to.”
You’ve been there too, haven’t you?
I think most of us wind up in this space from time to time, but we shouldn’t reside in this rhythm of faith. When we become aware of marking time spiritually, we need to reorient our heart, soul, and mind toward Christ, and seek renewal.
So, how do you seek renewal when you realize you’re spiritually marking time? I’ve got a few ideas on this. Because this kind of placeholder faith has a pull all it’s own, it often requires an intentional approach for change to happen.
One way to break out of this pattern is by trying something different. If you find yourself showing up for time with God, but not really meeting God, you might try one of these ideas:
1.) Join in wordless worship. I first experienced this quite by accident in January, and found it is powerful. After losing my voice completely, I was forced to stand shoulder to shoulder with others who forcefully sang their hearts out in worship. I joined with my spirit, but did not add to the sound. Once I got past the awkwardness of a different way of worship, my wordless worship helped me to meet God in a new way. I focused on the imagery and words of the song, and allowed them to take up residence in my heart.
2.) Adopt a meaningful breath prayer. Breath prayers are simple phrases that can be prayed repeatedly over the course of our day. One of the most popular breath prayers is the phrase, “Lord, have mercy on me.” Each of us has phrases that speak to us on the deepest level. The phrase might be scripture, but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps it is a line from a favorite song or hymn. Let a phrase that speaks to you become your breath prayer, and when you feel difficult emotions rising, breathe deeply and whisper your prayer. Initially, this may take concentration! You might try jotting down the phrase on an index card and putting it in a visible place. Over time, this phrase will start coming to you, rather than you coming to it. That’s the beauty of this discipline!
3.) Ask God to reveal Himself to you. This is perhaps the most powerful way to break the pattern of marking time. Start your morning with a simple invitation: Lord, right now You feel distant. I want to come closer to You. Please show Yourself to me today. Put up your spiritual radar, and consciously look for God. You will be amazed at the varied and unexpected places you might find Him.