I thank you, Lord, for this morning hour, when you deign to come and sit with me, when you calm me by your Spirit’s power, and open my eyes so that I can see. Without you, days would just pass by, empty of meaning, empty of peace. But with you teaching my heart to fly, I find my purpose and deep release.
When I turned 13 in July 1965, I had no idea that I was beginning what would be a milestone year in my spiritual growth. I had been baptized in 1964, and in early 1965 had made a more mature total consecration of my life to Jesus Christ. My family had returned to Côte d’Ivoire from our home assignment year in the U.S., and I was off to boarding school again. My earlier experience there had been okay; now key changes were going to shape me.
Some missionaries who were some of my parents’ best friends were filling in as dorm parents that year, Don and Glenna Bigelow. The routines of boarding school schedule took over each day’s activities, including a 20-minute space for personal devotions before breakfast. As long as we were quiet we did not get into trouble, so there were those who just rested or read a book. I found it wonderful to have that moment set aside to read something in my Bible and pray, but it was just too short a time. We eighth graders were the oldest kids at the school, so “Uncle” Don and “Aunt” Glenna gave us a special privilege: on Saturday mornings we were allowed to get up early and go outdoors anywhere we wished on the campus, to have our own quiet time with the Lord in nature. That meant we could also come in to the dining room for a late breakfast with coffee (Nescafe and sweetened condensed milk)!
I jumped into that practice with delight. Morning was much cooler than the rest of the hot day, and being alone in grassy areas wet with dew, or under some trees, I could think about issues swirling through my mind, and pray. I did not know back then that I was learning the value of certain spiritual disciplines in my life: solitude and silence. And during the week, I was benefiting from the regular Bible reading and prayer. There were also evening devotions, where we seventh and eighth graders were being encouraged to use new translations like Phillips’ New Testament to delve into the Word. How would this fit into my life when I would be in charge of my routine?
Back home I had seen Mom and Dad reading their Bibles early in the morning before the workday began. Our family had devotions together, usually geared to my younger siblings. But my own program had been rather random. Now I was adding personal practices that would become critical for my spiritual formation.
I’ve learned that for years a daily or weekly schedule like this has been called a “rule of life.” I prefer Ruth Haley Barton’s name for it: sacred rhythms. Her book of that name explained such rhythms was transformational for me, helping me to understand how to think through what my heart’s yearnings were telling me and how to work out ways to address them. I was still doing my daily morning quiet time, something that my InterVarsity training in my college years had also strengthened. But now I was in full-time ministry in Bible translation. My children were adults, all in the United States. Glenn and I were involved in discipling Nyarafolo believers and encouraging the village church we had planted, as well as welcoming many visitors into our home and housing certain pastors’ families as they worked out their plans, as well as some youth we were mentoring. Life was full. I was feeling fried. My brain was constantly reeling with words/conversations/concerns.
Sacred Rhythms and Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, came to me at just the right time. I realized that my spiritual health required rest and renewal that I could not get through all my activities, as spiritually energizing and demanding as they were. “Early bird” that I am, mornings were and still are my best moments. So I set aside 6 to 9 a.m. every Saturday (when it worked out) for my protected quiet space under the golden rain trees on the west side of our courtyard. I called that my “sacred grove,” and told the workers and friends closest to us that I was not to be interrupted when I was sitting there on Saturday mornings, except for something urgent. What a difference that made! Looking back, I realize that I was not only practicing solitude and silence but also contemplation, worship, celebration (through my poetry), intercession (urgent needs came up), rest and examen. Whew! I began delving into many other books to expand my understanding of these “disciplines.”
So why am I getting into this discussion about “sacred rhythms” when so far we have only examined worship, celebration and gratitude? It’s because I would like to urge you to think through what your yearnings are, and what might empower you to focus on meeting those needs. Whenever there is a new phase of life, or some changes in circumstances, it is good to reconsider what will work and how to engage in that pursuit. As I continue to share what I’ve been learning, I would encourage you to walk through that process. Perhaps you already have a plan, which is great. I find that incorporating another practice that particularly suits a new goal, or rough path, when the time is right, makes a huge difference. Right now, I’m focusing on a certain way of meditating on Scripture, and rhythms that incorporate worship and gratitude into certain times of the day. Other kinds of service and ministry continue, and there is now a return to participating in translation long-distance that takes hours of my days in a way that has made “retirement” into what I call “retread!” I have definitely had to reconsider my sacred rhythms and make place for the rest, silence and solitude that I need.
What rhythms are already in your life? What would deepen your path of spiritual formation? I will share with you some of the questions recommended by Barton and Adele Calhoun that I’ve found pertinent for putting together a personal plan. This must be done prayerfully, incited by a desire to know God better and love him more, as well as to grow in areas he is pointing out that need attention.
- What am I currently doing to meet my life goals and spiritual goals? What is helping me, and what has become just a duty or a blockade?
- What community practices should be priority for me? (a prayer partner or group? church meetings? service opportunities?)
- In this current life phase, what time and space limitations am I dealing with?
- What areas of weakness do I want to address? What kind of person do I want to become?
- My personality will influence the goals I set, so what already brings me delight in my journey? What do I believe the Lord has made me for? How can I cooperate with him in his plans?
- What would fit into my life daily (or certain times of day)? weekly? monthly? quarterly? yearly?
You may think of others. We are all different, all a part of the Body that belongs to our Lord. And life throws in unexpected circumstances. That is why our rhythms can change, just like the different movements in a symphony. What is important is paying attention to them, and taking time to realign them as seasons and needs change.
It may be helpful to make a list of what you already are practicing, and begin to prayerfully consider what else the Lord may want to be drawing to your attention. He is our loving Father, our Counselor, and our Master and Shepherd. He knows best what we need, and when we need it. I can testify that he is also the Potter and I am the clay; he is still molding me into what he purposed for me. It is joy to open up to him, to walk with him and to let him do his work in me!
 Barton, Ruth Haley. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. (InterVarsity Press: 2009).
 Barton, Ruth Haley. Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence. (InterVarsity Press:2010).
 Barton, 121.
 Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books), 37.
6 thoughts on “Grateful for this Morning Hour”
Hi, I feel parents shouldn’t send their children to boarding school. It’s unheard of in the African American cultures. Europeans aren’t maternal people. You’re already living in a foreign country, then you traumatize the child further by sending them away and only seeing them on weekends and holidays? I can understand being away for college, but a child? Why would you send a child away to learn morals and values from strangers instead of their parents? Then you wonder why some young people get involved in drugs, crimes or commit suicide? They just wanted attention whether positive or negative. Just my observations on boarding schools. No matter how much time is spent in the black culture or even if a white person marries a black person, a white person will never understand the black mind. It’s not in their nature. 5-2-2023
I understand your point of view. Where I was living, there was not a better choice if my parents wanted me to succed in school – no local schools available, no cohort at that educational level. Things are very different here in the U.S., I agree.
Okay Linn! Take care . Ebonie
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This is really good, Linn I especially appreciate the questions you laid out for us at the end, to help us put it into practice and evaluate. Thank you, again, for sharing! Love you! Donna
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