I used to desperately try to live for God. And for most of my grown-up life, I felt like I was letting God down.
When you grow up Baptist with a strong earnest streak and a deep spiritual hunger, you cannot help but try to live your life for God. You will read books, hear sermons, develop ideas about what this living for God looks like and also about what living for God does not look like. You will try to make your life match the former. You will try to avoid the latter. The disappointment runs deep when your reality and visions don’t align.
But when we live for God without living with God it is easy to mistake our own agenda or our parents’ agendas or our pastors’ agendas or that famous writer’s agenda for God’s.
And living for God without living with God is EXHAUSTING in mind, body, and soul.
Have you been there?
This living for God business is part of my Before story. A story that left me dried up, exhausted, and feeling lost. This was confusing, because I always figured that I was already living in my After story. How can living for God be part of my Before story?
My After story began with an Invitation that sounded like: Let go. Cease striving. Be. Rest. Come. Follow. Seek. Walk with. Abide in. Listen. And Trust.
This was so different than what I knew about living for God.
There is such a sweet freedom to this invitation.
Living for God is like trying to heave our bodies and souls up to God.
Living with God is surrendering our agendas, our egos, our striving. Living with God is following God’s lead. It is letting God move in us and through us.
Living with God requires listening with open ears, open eyes, and an open heart.
When we live with God, we live awake. We live as participants in our lives.
My After story isn’t an achievement or a finished product. It’s definitely not perfection. It often feels like I’m more accurately in my In-between story. But this in-between place is a good place to be. This rich in-between time is all about learning to live with God. It is about learning to pay attention.
I wonder if paying attention is the way that we move from living for God–with all of our earnest and endless striving– to living with God? Maybe we need to learn to pay attention in order to walk humbly with God.
Some days I still stink at paying attention. But I don’t need to beat myself up about it. It’s an invitation, after all. It’s pure grace that we fall into. And like all worthwhile endeavors, paying attention requires practice. We need to try. And try again.
And this is where Practices are helpful. As Marcus Borg says: “Practice is paying attention to God… It involves attending to the relationship, spending time in it, being intentional and thoughtful about it, valuing it, and ideally, enjoying it.” There are so many practices that help us to pay attention.
Sunday school taught me to read my Bible, pray, go to church, join a small group, and volunteer. When I hit the end of my Before story, those practices weren’t working for me. I couldn’t read my Bible. I couldn’t pray with words. And I would get all shaky and panicky just from going to church. My spiritual future appeared bleak.
But I stumbled into new-to-me practices that gave my soul space to hold doubt and questions and to experience the way God moves in me and around me. These practices are teaching me to pay attention to that movement. They help to make space in my heart and in my life. They help me to keep my eyes and ears open. And in these practices, I am learning what it means to live with God.
So I thought I would start a series here to share about these practices for paying attention. I was thinking of calling it Practices for Spiritual Growth When You are Allergic to Church, Devotions, and Praying Out Loud. But these practices are probably fabulous for people who love all of those things.
I hope that you join me. And if you have any practices that you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or as a guest on this page. I’m looking forward to exploring some Practices for Paying Attention with you.