I know, I know. You’re judging me hard because I’ve named a blog post after an old Britney Spears song. Or else, you didn’t even know that was the title of an old Britney Spears song, so you weren’t judging me then, but now you know so you sure as heck are judging me now.
So I begin this blog post under a cloud of judgment. Ha.
What exactly does this title refer to? Is it at least relevant? Well, I think so.
You see, recently I went on vacation. A family vacation. It’s the first family vacation we’ve taken since we moved to Oklahoma. Last summer I did take Elena and Kiersten with me to Ohio to visit my family there, but Eric had no vacation time yet, so he couldn’t come with us. Thank God that last fall he was finally hired as a permanent full-time employee, which came with vacation time.
Anyway, we all had a great time. We went to Ohio to visit my family, then went to Michigan to visit Eric’s family. I spent lots of time with my mom and sister, who also got to spend lots of time with my daughters. Eric got to do a lot of fishing with his dad, and several times Kiersten and Elena went along. Oh, I almost forgot, we also brought Winnie. She, as we all predicted, got along great with my mom’s dog, Lula. (I think this is because Lula is a Westie and Winnie is some sort of terrier mix, so they’re about the same size and have the same kinds of dog-genes in them, so they probably felt a little like long-lost sisters.)
(Also, because Winnie is one of the most laid-back terriers you will ever meet.)
This all sounds really positive. So why does my blog post title make it sound like I made a mistake?
Well, because I did.
Let’s backtrack a little. Sometime last year, not long after my father died actually, I got reconnected to God. “Reconnected” might be a little strong. I don’t feel like I was ever disconnected from Him, but I definitely felt more distant than in the past. I can’t pinpoint an exact reason why, but I know that the last year or so of Eric’s previous employment was hard on both of us. I battled depression. Not severe depression, but depression all the same. Eric’s was worse. We just weren’t happy. We weren’t unhappy with each other, we just weren’t happy.
This should have been a time for me to draw closer to God, but I’m sorry to say that it wasn’t. I don’t know why. I think I just had a tendency to draw solace in all the wrong things. Fleeting bits of pleasure found in things that don’t really matter in the long run.
Things started to get better once Eric found a new job and we moved here to Oklahoma. It felt like a fresh start. Also, with both of my children attending school, I had more breathing space at home during the day. Eric was so clearly less burdened by a horribly stressful job. The girls enjoyed their new schools. I started meeting people at the new church we found and Elena’s school.
When my dad died, it was very sudden, which was shocking and sad, but I think it had the effect of doing what my depression the previous year had not: it drove me into God’s arms. I needed solace more than ever. I needed to know that God was with me and was going to carry me not only through my grief, but also through a sudden and painful double eardrum infection (they happened one right after another, which was rather suffocating).
And God met me and carried me through. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t breeze through anything. But I clawed my way to God, barely able to see where I was going, and He basically picked me up and carried me the rest of the way.
The biggest way He did this was by reintroducing me to daily God time. I had been disconnected from it for a long time. I tried to convince myself that reading daily Bible devotionals were enough. But they weren’t, and I think I knew it, but I still skipped out. I convinced myself I didn’t have time to do them and that was good enough. That excuse might have flown when I was with a baby who demanded every second of my attention and left me sleep-deprived and groggy, but not now. Those days were long gone.
I decided to buy myself a new journal and write my prayers in it every day. I used to do that, I think when I was in college and for a few years after I graduated and married Eric, but I hadn’t done so for years. I’m not good at saying prayers out loud. I’m not the best talker, whether in private or in person. I’m so much better at organizing my thoughts on paper.
Over the past year and a half, a very clear pattern emerged. When I dedicated myself to reading a devotional and writing my prayers every morning, my days tended to feel lighter. I felt better prepared to face whatever was coming my way, whether it was big or small. I tended to focus more on other people and less on myself. (Selfishness is a daily battle for me, sorry to say.)
Whenever I said “eh, I think I’ll skip today, I don’t feel like it” (or the equivalent)? I invariably felt more stressed-out, less able to control my emotions, greedier and more selfish.
I don’t think it’s because God rewards me when I talk to Him in the morning and punishes me when I don’t. I don’t believe God works that way. No, my opinion is that it works this way because my daily prayer time is when I depend on God’s ability to make me into the person I should be. And the rest of the day, I am somehow able to rely on that ability. That ability that is not mine, but God’s.
This isn’t to say I’m perfect on those days. Ha. I wish! I’m still human and I still screw up. But I do tend to recognize and feel that screw-up more, and I recognize that I need to make up for it ASAP. When I don’t have my morning time, more often than not I don’t even realize how badly I’ve messed up until the end of the day. Maybe not even until the next day. My mind becomes clouded by my own selfishness and insistence on having everything my own way.
So naturally, since my prayer journaling is such an important part of my life, I took my prayer journal with me when we went on vacation. And naturally, every morning while on vacation I took the time to write in it.
I didn’t crack open that prayer journal one single time while we were on vacation. It might as well not even have come with me.
I had mental excuses aplenty. The biggest one being that Wimbledon was happening. Yes… tennis rears its lovely head once more. I just couldn’t miss matches. I mean, sometimes I missed parts of matches because I slept through part of them. But oh, once I was out of bed, I just had to be in front of the TV watching.
And also, I had my mom and my sister to talk to.
And also, I had no place to sit and enjoy the outdoors in Michigan. (This was so ridiculous. My mother-in-law has the most beautiful set of flower gardens you’ve ever seen. That would have been perfect. So what if their sitting areas weren’t exactly where I wanted them? Honestly.)
Later. I would write later. I would carve out time later. I would do it before bed. Or whatever. Nope, nope, nope. Never happened. I’ve learned by now that if I don’t journal first thing in the morning, I’m not going to do it. I have an annoying tendency to go, go, go until bedtime, when I drop into bed exhausted.
It didn’t hurt me too badly during vacation, I don’t think, although I probably wasn’t as engaged with my mom and sister and even my in-laws in Michigan as I could have been. I filled my mind with meaningless tennis stuff rather than things of God.
I don’t think it really hurt me terribly until last Sunday morning. We were home, but we had arrived home very late – 3 in the morning – and we had already determined we would skip church. We didn’t think we would be in any shape to get ready and go to church at 9:30 am.
Of course, I was up anyway because it was the Wimbledon final and you-know-who was playing. I was barely awake, although my nerves woke me up by the time the final started.
You might know what happened next. I watched as my very favorite player played the worst Grand Slam final match of his life and lost in straight sets.
No, I’m not dumb enough to claim that he lost because I hadn’t spent any time in prayer for 10 days. I don’t think my prayer time, or rather its lack, had any bearing on that match. But I do think that my reaction to the match had everything to do with it.
Not only did I become increasingly agitated as the match went on, not only did I actually blow up on social media after people I thought were his fans said he had given up or was even tanking, but after the match, I was way more upset than I should have been.
Contrast this with my reaction after Novak Djokovic lost at the French Open to Rafael Nadal. That was a much closer match, one in which Novak was just a few points away from winning. I was actually pretty calm. There was some sadness, because I knew what that title meant to him, but I felt okay about it.
I’ve learned some important lessons from this.
Number one, I need to shed the excuses once and for all. I know for a fact that I need daily connection with my God, or else I just don’t function properly. I’m not saying that a missed day here or there is going to kill me, but 10 days is entirely too long to go without.
Number two, if I don’t make God the biggest priority in my life, I’m going to get severely out of balance and off-kilter. I placed tennis ahead of God, again, when Wimbledon rolled around, even though I thought I had learned that lesson before the French Open.
Now, how am I going to make sure this doesn’t happen again? When I’m on vacation I think I’ll put my prayer journal at the top of my knitting bag, rather than bury it. That might help me to remember that even before I reach for my knitting (oh yes, I did lots of knitting on my vacation, which was great, but still), I need my God time.
And when the U.S. Open rolls along, that TV is not going to be turned on until I’ve had my God time. Otherwise tennis will drive everything else out, and I don’t particularly want to become Nicole Hyde again. Not when I was this close to banishing her for good!