“We felt that we must get our bit of quiet in the garden today, for soul as well as body – yesterday there was scarcely leisure ‘so much as to eat.’ He makes the scraps of aloneness very very precious – and though there is no possibility of having a key or of ensuring the quiet lasting for a moment, one gets a sense among the palms and fruit blossoms that one has so far as possible shut the door. And it is true as of old that ‘the doors being shut, came Jesus.'” Travel Journal 1895
At the outbreak of the First English Civil War (1642), Baron Astley of Reading, joined with King Charles and subsequently was appointed commander of the Royalist infantry. His prayer at the Battle of Edgehill has gone down in history along with his cause: “O Lord! Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget you, do not forget me.”
Too busy to pray! How many times have I faced my daily battles with that attitude if not those very words? While I would never admit to being “too busy to pray” that has been, far too often, my reality. Here is my varied rationale. The urgency of the moment – this matter cannot wait. (Translation: God can wait.) Or, limited time – so much to do; so little time in which to do it. (Translation: My immediate concern is more important than time alone with God.) Better yet, I can pray as I work. (Translation: God is always good for “talk on the run.”)
All the above is true. There are certain things that just can’t wait – meal preparations, the urgent needs of a child, a friend or an elderly parent, appointments to keep, deadlines to meet. And there definitely are days in which there are not enough hours to complete tasks which are non-negotiable. Fact is, God will always be there for me. He will wait. Furthermore, what is wrong with “talking on the run”? Aren’t we commanded to “pray without ceasing”? Some of my best praying takes place in the car, on a bike ride, in the shower.
Yes. All the above is true. But it misses the point. What is prayer? It is so much more than talking to God. It is, in fact, communion with God. Prayer keeps us in relationship with Him. And, as with any deep and growing relationship, conversation best takes place when we withdraw from our activities and spend time alone with the one with whom we wish to commune. While we can, and should, continue to converse with God throughout our waking hours, nothing can replace, in quality, time set aside on a regular basis to be alone with God. Like a marriage relationship – or one’s closest friendships – for that relationship to flourish, we need more than a “tip of the hat” in passing or a quick “head’s up” on our activities. We need regular time, set aside, just to be together. So with God: “Prayer is the response of our whole being to the call of God. In it the soul stands at attention.”
Lilias penned her need and resolve to get a “bit of quiet” in the context of extreme stress. In 1895, she and her colleague Blanche Haworth, began what would be their most ambitious expedition, five months in duration. They traveled in camel caravan along the steep mountainside of the Aures followed by a 3-day journey southward, deep into the desert, to their destination, the district of the Djerid. They pitched their tent on the edge of a palm garden, in Touzer, a village just inside the border of Tunisia. For two weeks running, visitors streamed to their doorway of their tent, in groups of 8 – 20, from morning to night. They begged the women to read to them from the Scriptures and exhibited a spirit of thoughtful listening. At times, as much for the soul as for the body, Lilias was compelled to send them away so that she could get a sorely needed “bit of quiet.” And, it was there, in that quiet that “came Jesus.”
Jesus knew his disciples’ need for time alone with Him. After they had been commissioned by him to go out, “two by two,” they came back to Jesus to report all that they did and taught. Even as people with pressing need gathered around them, Jesus extended to His disciples this invitation: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:3o) Furthermore, Jesus recognized His own need to be alone with His Father. It was later that very day, after feeding the 5,000, that Jesus sent His disciples off on a boat. Then “He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.” (Mark 6:46)
I have to ask myself if Jesus, who was at once, human and divine, felt it a necessity to draw apart from the crowds and His closest friends to spend time alone with God – to recharge, to find the nourishment and strength to carry out His partnership with God on earth – who do I think I am to believe I can survive without fellowship with God the Father?
I need time alone with God – “a bit of quiet” – to renew my spirit, to regain perspective, to restore my relationship with Him. I must seek solitude. Like everything else of importance, if I don’t schedule it into my life, it will be scheduled out by default. There will be times that my best intentions will be sabotaged by factors beyond my control. But I must never forget that in those priceless “scraps of aloneness” comes Jesus. He is essential for my soul’s survival.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Paintings: Travel Journal 1900