Form vs. Heart (Trail Blaze #2)

It is so easy to get trapped (as a mom, as a woman, as a wife, as a child of God) in thinking that a particular *form* is what's needful, rather than understanding that it is the heart with which God is concerned.  Don't fall into this trap!

I'll offer one example, but it's merely an example... an example of a "good thing" that can be elevated to a "necessary thing" if you look at the form, rather than the heart of the matter:

For example- the 5am quiet time.   Is this necessary?  Some bloggers and books seem to communicate that waking before your children is the "right" thing to do.  That if you're godly enough, if you prepare enough, if you are diligent enough (see how all this depends so stringently on *you* being good enough?), then you'll make a way for this to happen.  "Because if God's Word is important to you," their 'wisdom' goes, "you'll make Scripture the first priority in your life."

Well, I would argue with that line of thinking for many reasons--

  1. Your priorities in life do not always/necessarily line up with the chronology of your day.  Sometimes you do something first because it makes sense to do it first, not because it's necessarily the most important, or because it's the most valuable to you.  Sometimes you put off something that is extremely valuable to you because you want to be able to give it your best attention or focus.  The timing is not always the key factor in whether something is a priority to you. 
  2. This way of thinking completely dismisses the idea of seasons in a woman's life.  God Himself, in Isaiah 40:11 among other places, indicates that expectations differ based on the stage a "sheep" is in. One who has only young children, a nursing baby, a child with special needs, or other unique demands, is simply in a different stage than someone with teenagers, a college student, or an empty nester.  
  3. It smacks of pharasaical thinking.  One description that sticks out for me (of the Pharisees) is this one (Matthew 23:4) : 

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 

Christian woman, don't get caught up in thinking that because someone else does something a certain way that you must emulate her form!

Focus on the heart...  if you find someone you look up to, imitate what is godly about her heart... her motivations... her character.  But eschew ways of thinking that would convince you that you need to follow and subscribe to the specific details of someone else's life (the curriculum she uses, the time or method of her Bible study, the cleaning schedule she follows, her convictions about intimacy/ food/ birth control/ etc.).


Cat said...

So so true. I heard a sweet older mom (as in most children are grown and the youngest is a 16 YO at home) speak on this at the Oklahoma City homeschool convention last year and it was so freeing. She said it is so easy to forget once you are past the stage of having toddlers how exhausting mornings can be and how so many moms live with constant guilt over not doing that early morning time with the Lord. For me personally, the "best" time is once the kiddos go to bed at 8. I can "breathe" then and not feel stressed, plus it's a great thing to do shortly before bed and have on your mind.

Julie Spencer said...

Hey Jess! I don't often comment on your blog, but I do read it. I was just chuckling to myself about this issue--getting up at the "cracker dawn," as we call it at our house. I do get up early--so I can exercise, make lunch for John, start laundry and do all those WORLDLY things... :) And then around 8:30 or 9, after the morning rush is over, I just read my Bible TO Stephen. And he--at just 4 years old (almost 5)--laps it up! He cried today when I wouldn't read parts of the story to him today (I read Judah and Tamar quietly to myself) :) Anyway--I'm with you on this "issue." We gotta do what works for our family--and, I'll just say it--for OURSELVES! The saying is true--if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. :) I enjoy reading your blog!

Charisa said...

Thank you for these wise words. I've been reading again more books and blogs that talk about rising early to spend time with our LORD, but being 39 weeks pregnant with our third child and about to have a newborn again, I just feel like I CAN'T. It is a struggle to have energy for the day as it is, getting as much sleep as I possibly can (which means sleeping until 7am daily, not exactly a lazy morning!). And yet, I have felt guilty because it seems this is what I SHOULD be doing. Thank you for this encouragement. I needed it this morning.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jess,

May I offer an alternative perspective on your example? I would argue that those promoting an early wake up time do so for Biblical reasons:
1) The example of the excellent wife gets up while it is still dark to do things for her household and and family (Proverbs 31:15).
2) Secondly, from a Titus 2:4-5 perspective, older women (such as the Girl Talk ladies) are instructed to teach younger women to be busy at home. Spiritual wisdom comes into play here because a young woman may ask how to be effectively and cheerfully busy at home. Based on experience, an older woman instructs younger women to get up early like the Proverbs 31 woman example because based on her experience, time with the Lord first thing in the morning was the best way for her to be well prepared to serve her family for the day.
Based on discussions with other women in my Bible study, getting in solid time with the Lord when you have young children at home is a common problem for young moms. Good intentions and a heart that desires time with the Lord does not actually translate into sitting down and reading the Bible and praying. The advice to get up early is intended to remedy that problem, not create burdensome, pharisaical rules. Quite the opposite, it is intended to give young moms joy in their hearts and a fresh perspective to start another day of “mundane faithfulness” in serving our King.
The Girl Talk ladies readily acknowledge that different seasons in life (i.e. having a newborn, etc) may require different strategies for time in the word and that also, 5AM is not a hard and fast rule for every family.
Grateful for you and your writing,
Rachel Breeding

Jess said...

Hi Rachel,
In regard to the proverbs 31 woman, I think it is much more realistic and likely more accurate to think that it is a "life in the big view" perspective on her life, rather than contorting it to be some sort of "day in the life of a mom of little ones" sort of perspective.

I definitely am aware (from both my own experiences and in talks wih friends,etc.) that getting scripture as a young mom is an ongoing struggle. I think that that struggle is more a result of season and of priorities rather than a matter of when it is done.

One woman here has already shared how it is helpful for her to study at 8pm, once the kids are in bed. I personally have found it helpful to use audio bibles while the kids are awake or to use my first free/ quiet moment of the day (whether that's 6am, 11am, naptime, or just before bed) to read and study. I also use my evening baths as a time to read discipleship-type books.

The point for me is that it is the heart priorities that matter, and not the time of day. And advice or "encouragement" aimed at moms of little ones that encourages something that for a vast majority will rob them of the very little sleep they are gettin and actually set them into a cycle of guilt and exhaustion is actually unhelpful and discouraging. At least, it has been in my life of being pregnant or nursing for almost 11 years straight.

My desire is to offer freedom and grace as we pursue Christ rather than guilt and guidelines. In my own life, a heart desire and prayerful intentions actually *have* translated into spiritual growth, scriptural study, and personal discipleship. I don't think it has to be either 5am or spiritual malaise, and I personally feel like I need to speak out against such unhelpful and unnecessary "encouragement".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the response, Jess. I think it is wonderful for the moms who are able to prioritize their quiet times at different times of the day and it is all going well for them. What a wonderful blessing they must be to their families (and you to yours!). I intended my comment only for those women (like me) who feel greatly encouraged to start off the day with time in the word and depending on the day, might find it difficult to get a quiet time in without an early wake up time (I have a one and two year old and a husband with a crazy work schedule so the day is full of the unexpected!). I often here women complain about how they have no time to spend with the Lord and how frustrated they can be with their overall day. The encouragement in getting up early is to lay your burdens at the feet of our Lord first thing and ask Him to carry you through the day.

Psalm 5:3 comes to mind here: "In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."

I greatly appreciate your admonition not to turn a suggestion for living into slavish, legalistic rule, but I also appreciate the Girl Talk ladies for encouraging young Moms to "sit at the feet of Jesus" first thing to get help for living your day to His honor and glory. It has helped me :) That said, I am not homeschooling mom of (almost) six so I understand how different lives require different strategies and by no means subscribe to one-size-fits-all approach.

In Christ,

Susan said...

Thank you--I appreciated this very much!

Jess said...

Julie-- it was SHOCKING to me to read that Stephen is almost 5! Shocking!! Can't hardly believe it!! :) I think of you guys and always enjoy hearing from you!

Anonymous said...

I haven't read through the comments, just the post and to that I say, WELL SAID. My baby wakes up every two hours all day and all night long to nurse. So my time with God or anyone is every two hours. :-)

Anonymous said...

I haven't read through the comments, just the post and to that I say, WELL SAID. My baby wakes up every two hours all day and all night long to nurse. So my time with God or anyone is every two hours. :-)

Leanne said...

LOVE this!!! I don't have children, but I am definitely not at my best at 4:30 am [which is when I'd have to get up in order to read my Bible, as I need to leave the house by 6:15 to get to work!], and my feeling is that God deserves me at my best. I used to teach kids at our church, and I always gave this illustration: if you know you get to spend time with your best friend, does it really matter to you what time of day you get to see them? Of course not! And since God is our best friend, He just wants to hear from us. He is excited to hear from us no matter what time of day...

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your ability to verbalize the thoughts I have about certain issues. Thank you for your reminders on this. I am not a "5am-er", but try to faithfully read my Bible every evening after my youngest 2 children are in bed. However, I often feel the guilt you described when other women talk about the benefits of rising early. God has definitely blessed you with the ability to express yourself clearly and gracefully. Thank you!

Jess said...

Rachel, I keep meaning to come back And respond with another thought, but my computer screen cracked and so I am typing on my iPhone. That has made it difficult for me to write the response at the length that it requires. Ha ha I'm sure you can understand.

What I wanted to say was that I think proof texts could be used in the same sort of way to make a case for a night time quiet time or even a middle of the night quiet time.

For example Psalm six references, "every night I flood my bed with tears" and talks about the Lord hearing and accepting our prayers. Another example could be Jacob who wrestled with the angel of the Lord all night long.

And of course Jesus himself prayed in the garden all night long. There are many examples of people spending the night in prayer and solitude. But I don't hear a lot of people clamoring and hammering young moms to spend time with the Lord in the middle of the night.

My point is that I think there is a lot of focus on one time of day that is actually quite difficult in the life of a young mom to attain when she is simultaneously balancing so many other demands, including lack of sleep, waking babies, meals to be made, learning to keep a house running (which most modern moms unfortunately don't learn until they are "on the job"), etc.

I think the heart is where God is concerned. Understand: I am perfectly fine with any woman finding that 5 AM is indeed the best time for her-- notice: for her-- to meet with the Lord in an intentional and focused way. However I think it is important for us all to remember that it is an ongoing relationship with Him-- just like we have with our husbands or friends-- that is the most important aspect.

He desires and works out our sanctification and growth in the Spirit. And that can be not only maintained, but grow and flourish, at *any* time of day.


Anonymous said...

Love this post. I agree so much. We should not get hung up on "technical details." So many people write of having devotions/Bible reading, etc. in the morning, but that doesn't work for me.

I set aside my time with God after the children are asleep. This is the part of day when I have the time to dedicate and focus fully on God and when I'm most relaxed and alert. I can pray and reflect on the day that was and pray for the day to come. Works for me.

Noele said...

I appreciate your post. You are very right that we need to be guarding ourselves from feeling like we need to be doing exactly what others are doing in their walk with Christ. We need to imitate others as they imitate Christ, but be careful not to add extra-biblical burdens.

I have not read a lot from other women bloggers about getting up early in the morning to have a time in the Word and prayer other than the Girl Talk posts. After reading your post, I went back and read their stuff again. If you are referring to them, I hope that you re-examine your use of the term "pharasaical" b/c that is a pretty strong term that insinuates they are not believers. It is not legalistic or pharasaical to encourage women to read their Bibles in the morning, as long as you are not tying it to a person's salvation. It could be seen as harsh, unrealistic, unsympathetic--but not legalistic. There may truly be women out there who are writing that you are not a Christian unless you read your Bible first thing in the morning, the earlier the better! However, I don't think that's what the women of Girl Talk are saying. It seems like they're saying: "Listen, we know it's hard, but this has been such a blessing to us. We know that there are different seasons in life, but making this a daily priority has so many benefits that we want to encourage you towards it."

One thing I wanted to point out and, hopefully, commend you on is that you seem like someone who really loves to dive into God's Word and make it a priority. You are actually the one who spurred me on to start reading commentaries along with my Bible reading. So, while I'm sure you struggle, your tendency seems more towards making time for the Word and other solid, Christian writing. However, I would say that is not the case for the majority of Christian women. So, I think the exhortations are geared more towards women who don't yet seem to understand the importance and value of regular intake of the Word. It may just be my perspective, but I see a lot more stuff out there for moms letting us off the hook since we're in a certain "season." Let's be honest--aren't we always going to be in a season? And a few index cards of key verses posted around the house to look at while we brush our teeth and wash the dishes is not going to be enough to gird us up as believers. Unfortunately, this advice--along with advice that says offering up a few "Help me, Lord" prayers throughout the day is sufficient for growth in grace--is a lot more abundant than counsel to do whatever it takes to be a woman of the Word and prayer.
I think the counsel to do that first thing in the morning is just simply acknowledging that many of us will get bogged down with other things throughout the day that may keep us from our time with God's Word and fellowship with Him. It seems, from the comments, that some women have no problem making sure they find that time during the day or evening and that's great! If you can, by all means do it. There is no magical time given in Scripture. But by looking at the Psalmist and saints throughout history, one can't help but notice that the morning has usually been viewed as an ideal time. So I don't think it's crazy for Christian women to encourage others to follow that path.

to be cont...

Noele said...

here's the rest:
I am a mom of 4 little ones 6 and under, so I understand the tiredness and craziness of our days. I also understand the temptation to think once this season is over THEN I will really dig into Scripture and devote more time to prayer. However, we will always have "seasons"--they just look different. I am thankful for women (including you!)who have spurred me on to more diligent and faithful study of God's Word over the years. Any encouragement to be doing that--as long as someone is not tying to salvation--should be taken for what it is: encouragement. If we're offended, perhaps it's our pride. (I'm not accusing anyone!) Perhaps we're in particularly difficult seasons of life and feel like we're failing, then someone comes along who seems to have it all together and makes us feel even more like a failure. But we must always be careful to not make claims to know someone's motivations. If they haven't disclosed them, we are to believe the best. (I Cor. 13:7) If they haven't said, "You are not a godly women and not a Christian if you don't get up early to read your Bible," then we need to believe the best. I take what these women have said as sound encouragement, not something that I can always do, and definitely not something to beat myself up about if it doesn't happen.

One last thing...if we are feeling guilty about how we're not reading our Bibles or not reading them when other people suggest, we probably need to first look at our own hearts and take stock. Are we feeling guilty b/c we're not actually spending regular time with the Lord in His Word and prayer? We should. That's the Holy Spirit convicting you. Are we feeling guilty b/c we don't do it in the mornings first thing? Well, if we're having regular intake, then we should be able to consider whether another sister has a point without guilt. Perhaps she's lived longer, had more experiences, or is just godlier than me to know what she's talking about. Again, as long as she's not saying you are not a Christian unless you read your Bible early in the morning, then I need to consider her encouragement and account of how it has blessed her. And when I see a large number of women committing to rise early in the morning to study God's Word and pray, I should be encouraged--not threatened--and say to myself, "Wow, I am so thankful to see so many sisters making such a commitment! I can't necessarily wake up that early, but this spurs me on to make sure I'm finding that time every day to seek the Lord."

I hope you receive this in the best possible way. It is good for sisters in the Lord to have these conversations and, hopefully, spur each other on in all grace and love.

Looking forward to hearing of the safe arrival of your little one!

In Christ,

Jess said...

Hey Noele (and others who have mentioned it):

No I haven't read the Girltalk blog that you've referenced so I definitely wasn't calling them out. In fact it sounds like a good article but I haven't had time to check it out. So no worries this is absolutely not personal or specifically about any *certain* article. I am writing from years of having heard the advice, in person, in books, etc., here there and yon, and my own experiences with that.

Blessings to all.

Noele said...

Thanks for your response. I am always encouraged by your writing and love for the Lord. And congratulations on the birth of your new son--he's precious!

In Christ,