I’ve been slowly reading through the gospel of Matthew in the last few weeks during my mostly-regular times with the Lord. I often find it so difficult to make that time fit into my day. I saw a meme recently that said, “I’ve reached the level of parenthood where I wake up early just to have a few minutes of quiet.” It made me laugh out loud because that’s exactly where I am. If I don’t find a way to get up before all of my children, the day just runs away from me and before I realize it, the whole day is gone and I haven’t been quiet with the Lord. But I discovered something as I was reading through the book of Matthew that has helped me change my perspective on finding time to be with God.
In the middle of the book of Matthew, Jesus’ ministry is taking off and he is becoming a popular figure. People want to hear his teachings and see what miracles he can do for them. One day, Jesus gets word that John the Baptist has been killed. Matthew tells us that “when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” This one little verse makes me love Jesus so much, because he understands what it means to want some time alone. He understands grief and the need for quiet when you feel overwhelmed by life. But when the crowds of people heard where he had gone, they followed him. The scripture specifically says that they followed him on foot and reached the other shore before him. Jesus is trying to get some time alone and instead of finding a desolate beach welcoming him, he sees over 5,000 people who all want his attention.
How does Jesus respond? “…he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” He also performs a miracle to feed them all dinner. Jesus is tired and grieving, his plan has been interrupted, he has missed out on time alone with God, and his response is compassion and a tangible provision for the needs in front of him. And I get frustrated when I don’t get to finish my coffee before it gets cold? Ouch.
But the story doesn’t end there. After the crowds had finished eating and the leftovers had been gathered up, Jesus “immediately…made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” Finally, Jesus gets his time to be alone with God.
Parents, our time with God cannot be optional. When Jesus was in a season of stress in his ministry, his immediate response was to get alone with God. If the very Son of God needed time alone in communication with his Father, what makes us think we can do without it? What makes us think that anything else is more important or more helpful in our ministry to our families? I am convinced that nothing else will cause us to be effective in our parenting like regular, intentional time alone with God.
But the question remains, how? How do we, as busy parents, find the time and the energy to pour into our relationship with God when there are so many things pressing on us? How did Jesus do it? This passage in Matthew tells us, “he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him…”. He sent them away so he could be alone with God. I have found in my own life that when I’m trying too hard to be intentional in my relationship with my children, my relationship with God can suffer. Children, like Jesus’ own disciples and the crowds, are needy and demand lots of attention and it can feel hard to pull away. At the same time, I’m constantly reminded how quickly the time with our children goes and I want to enjoy as much of it as I can. But sometimes, if I’m really honest, my desire to hold tightly to my children causes me to loose my grip on my savior. I need to remind myself that my children will be okay if I tell them to “go on ahead” so I can have some time alone with God. They can learn to quietly pour themselves a bowl of cereal if they wake up before I’m finished praying. They can learn to play quietly, or finish up their own school work, while I take a few minutes to read the Word. They can learn to be okay without my attention for a few moments so I can seek God’s face. And I can choose to remember that there is nothing more valuable I can give them as a parent than my own time alone with God.