The young woman at my kitchen table had bags under her eyes. "What can I do?" she wailed. "My pastor says to have a regular devotional time, but my baby has me up so much I'm too tired to concentrate. I feel terrible that I'm not reading my Bible and praying like I should."
Her dilemma was not new to me. The summer I was 11, a camp counselor stressed the importance of a devotional time for all believers. I took her seriously. For 20 years I studied the Bible and prayed, usually at the same time each day. Then God gave me a wonderful Christian husband, one of the most spontaneous people He ever created. My comfortable schedule disintegrated.
Our first child had cancer, which hospitalized her for long periods. She could not be left alone, so I stayed by her side, sleeping on a cot and responding to her cries at all hours. During those long days and nights I began to learn that a walk with God does not consist of externals like a certain chair or an exact spot on the clock. Walking with God became, instead, a seeking after Him in every moment. He became more, not less, precious as I communed with Him.
My friend's complaint reminded me that other women face circumstances which make a regular devotional time almost impossible. Caring for a new baby, a seriously ill patient, or an elderly parent can make enormous demands on one's time. Women sometimes flounder in guilt and frustration. To help my friend, and others like her, I began compiling a list of suggestions. I quizzed older Christians who had come through difficult situations.
The results were encouraging; different methods worked. My list is still growing:
Focus on your walk with God
Focus on your walk with God, not on legalism. God understands your situation. He even permitted it. A ritualistic attitude can actually be a form of salvation by works. We are not earning achievement points with God. We seek fellowship with Someone we love. Insisting on perfection could lead to giving up and never being alone with God.
No doubt your meals and sleep are also interrupted. Conversations with friends may be haphazard. Few wives wouldn't stop talking to their husbands when the baby cries, even in the middle of a sentence. The best way to deal with interruption is to relax and resume later where you left off. Remember that Jesus' prayer times and preaching often yielded to the pressing needs around Him. He met the needs—then went right back to prayer and preaching.
Readjust your schedule as necessary
Perhaps at first the baby will take only short naps and you will he too tired to read or pray more than five minutes at a time. Do this several times a day and then rest with the baby. When regular afternoon naps start, change to having a longer quiet time during the nap. His schedule will vary. Adapt to it. The needs of a sick person may change even more frequently. Each day ask the Lord to help you capture opportunities to meet Him. Gigi Graham Tchvidjian, mother of seven, calls these small amounts of time "Jesus Breaks."
Pray without ceasing
False religions associate prayer with a certain position, time, or place. Christians can pray anywhere, aloud or silently. Pray while you wash dishes, diapers, or dirty bodies. Pray while you feed the baby. Baby care experts recommend talking to the baby from earliest infancy to stimulate his mental development. Might praying aloud as you take care of the baby stimulate his or her spiritual development? Certainly praying aloud with my second child has helped her to feel comfortable with spontaneous prayer throughout the day.
Often hormonal change in new mothers or emotional upset in those who care for loved ones with great physical needs will cause insomnia. If you are awake at night, try praying. Pray about the day's problems, but don't use prayer as an excuse to dwell on worries.
In stressful periods I made a rule for myself that nighttime prayer must focus on thanksgiving and praise. Your difficulties cannot fall outside of 1 Thessalonians 5:18. "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (NIV). So get your body into a relaxed position, take a deep breath, and start telling God why you love Him. You'll go to sleep easier and wake up feeling more at peace.
Make small segments of Scripture available
If you have several Bibles, have them scattered in places you are likely to sit. Read while you nurse the baby. Be sure to keep devotional material in the bathroom. Taking time for your own physical needs is important, so read your Bible in the bathroom and take a refreshing break. In your rare free moments, copy helpful Bible verses on index cards. Post them on your refrigerator or over your kitchen sink, or carry them in your purse. If you can't read, meditate on verses you've memorized.
When someone is ill, Christian friends often send cards with Bible verses. Keep these ; isible. Choose just one verse to think about throughout the day, and you will find that it accompanies you into the night as well. Short sessions of study scattered throughout the day are the best method of memorization. For a list of verses and inspirational sayings for hard times, see Warren Wiersbe's book Why Us? When Bad Things Happen to God's People (Revell, 1985).
Find comfort in music
When Cathy Trewin's daughter was small, she screamed day and night. But this handicapped youngster and her mother found comfort when Cathy sang to her. Cathy even wrote her own song that reached out to God in their particular need.
Hymns and gospel songs consoled my own daughter when medications no longer soothed her pain. If you can't sing, play Christian music on the radio or cassette player, Scripture set to music speaks to the heart when troubles drown out the written Word.
Use your circumstances for ministry and learning
You probably can't teach a class right now. But you can minister where you are. If the person you are caring for is able to understand Scripture, read aloud and you will both be blessed. There is nothing wrong with a three-way conversation with God. Look around you. Are there neighbors, nurses, doctors, other patients, other caregivers? You needn't preach to witness to these people. Pray for them. Reach out to their spiritual needs. Learn with them how God works in tough times.
If you are at home with small children, remember to read Bible stories to them, When you're too tired to make sense of scripture, a child's Bible story may be a means for God to teach you. Once when I was discouraged about the growth of evil in our town, I read a children's story of Jonah. It reminded me that God can bring the most wicked to repentance.
Resume regular habits
When possible, resume regular habits of prayer and Bible study. This situation will not last forever. A scheduled time and place are of value, not to God, but to us. Just like a marriage, a walk with God demands some conscious planning of time together. Meeting with God, whether in one block of time or in little chunks, keeps us close to Him.