“Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God” (Hosea 14:1).
In this final chapter of Hosea, God bids the Israelites return to God and acknowledge their waywardness, but also to be assured they will find compassion and fruitfulness in God.
It’s really not a unique theme, but I think it offered me a biblical image to help me understand my own situation. Can waywardness happen for various reasons? Could it be a slow and gradual unintentional change? Can it be thrust upon you against your will?
For the first few months of 2020, I’d developed a pretty regular routine of reading my Bible, journalling and praying. Four out of five mornings each week everyone in my house would be off to work and school, which would afford me up to an hour before I had to head off to work myself. It had become my small time of sanctuary, my only alone time in which I could replenish my spirit and keep myself grounded.
Then life changed. Not just my life, but the whole world. We were all told to stay home and we suddenly had nowhere to go. It took me a long while to figure out why I’d been slacking in my Bible reading, my reflective writing, my praying. The answer became clear to me: I’d lost my routine. That sacred space that had been carved into my schedule had dissolved as life had shifted.
Suddenly, my children were home all day, my wife was working from home, and before long I also had to put a pause on my support work. We were all learning to adjust to a new temporary normal, and through it all I am still trying to figure out how best to develop a new routine for my personal spiritual practices.
Maybe it’s a stretch to compare my situation to the waywardness of the Israelites. Their invitation to return to God is quite different from my waywardness of personal devotion disruption. But perhaps they both share the same trajectory: Do the work of figuring out how you’re going to adjust your life so that you’re aligned to walk with God again.
Reflecting on my life, I realize that this is certainly not the first time I have encountered changes in routine that have disrupted my spiritual practices, and I’m sure it will not be the last. I still reflect with fondness on times years ago when I had established spiritual routines that were consistent and meaningful. Each time life changes, I am given an opportunity to take stock of my present situation and engineer my days in the hope of fostering space for meaningful connection with God in this chapter of life.
Routine spiritual practices don’t happen spontaneously; they require intention and take practice. They will blossom only when tended to with regular care and given time to take root. I find I must be gentle with myself, acknowledging that a thriving spiritual routine involves self-discipline as well as self-graciousness. Just as the Israelites were invited to return to God after their comparatively colossal mistakes, God continues to lovingly invite us back, to return to being rooted in God: “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily” (Hosea 14:4-5).
Joshua Penfold (email@example.com) is a support worker and a member of Tavistock (Ont.) Mennonite Church.