This morning I sat down to write my blog post and realized that it had been a long time since I had really thought about God. To be more precise, it had been just about a week—since I wrote my last post, in fact. This concerned me. It’s not very comfortable to look up from your daily affairs and realize that you’ve been living as a functional atheist, with a little trim of religiosity in the form of mealtime prayers. However, rather than throwing myself into a morass of guilt, it seemed more sensible to simply put clear structures in place to turn this around—my problem is forgetfulness, not unbelief or even a lack of enthusiasm. I’m like a baby who is entranced by a toy when it’s in front of my face but forget all about it when it’s hidden. The important thing is to keep God in front of my face—he will do the rest. And, since the best way to learn something is to explain it to someone else, I am going to explain to all of you my plan to keep thinking about God.
- Don’t let your quiet times slide, no matter what. You know the drill of summer vacation—you have a late dinner, maybe watch a movie with your siblings, stay up even later talking, and by that time all you want to do is slip into bed and stop thinking. This is a problem if you usually have your quiet time in the evening. It shouldn’t be. If necessary, move your quiet time to the morning. Make a point of spending time reading the Scriptures and in prayer, because “I’ll do it tomorrow” quickly becomes “next week will be fine” becomes “I’ll start up again when I get back to school”. If spending time with God is important at all, it’s important to do every day.
- Speaking of the Bible, if your routine readings aren’t gripping you, don’t be afraid to read something new. Perhaps you have more time than usual in the summer, and are ready to get a good commentary on a difficult book and work your way through something that will challenge you with good questions. Perhaps the lectionary you use has brought you to a difficult book, and you don’t want to face it while away from your church and your school-time network of Christian friends. Perhaps you just feel that what you’re reading is dull. That’s fine. I certainly don’t think that Christians should only read the books of the Bible that appeal to them, because everyone’s personal canon would be ludicrously shortened that way, but I do think that when you’re in a strange place, as so many people are over the summer, with strange people and a strange routine, there’s no dishonor in picking readings in the Bible that will make you excited about spending time with God.
- Find people who are Christians and start conversations with them about the faith. I believe that this is actually the most important tool we have for keeping our faith active, because it keeps our faith ordinary. There’s nothing like a dinnertime conversation about God to remind us that he really is a part of our real lives, and really does act in the world every day, whether we pay attention to him or not. And it’s wonderful to talk to people about their experience of God. Some ideas for conversation starters: “What have you noticed about God this week?” “Are you reading a particular book of the Bible right now? What have you learned?” “Who is the person who most influenced your faith?” “How did you come to faith? If you grew up in the church, was there a moment when you decided to claim that heritage for your own?” The last two questions might be especially good for asking parents about their faith, if you yourself grew up in a Christian household. I always knew that my parents were Christian, but it didn’t register until recently that they too were once my age, and perhaps not so sure of their beliefs as they are now. In any case, wherever you are, find Christians and talk to them about the ordinary facets of the Christian experience. If you ask how God has worked in other people’s lives, you will be more able to see how he has worked in your own.
That’s my plan. Simply remembering to pray, read the Bible, and talk to other Christians won’t make me perfect, but it will open up small times in my life to think about God—rather like opening up a small hole in a dike for a trickle of the sea to pour through. Before you know it, the water knocks the whole dike down, and all the lands are flooded.