In the busyness of your day, practicing this one habit will be the most important thing you can do.
The second oldest of eight children, my mom, Nancy Arndt, grew up on a little family-owned farm in Auburndale, Wisconsin. Her parents, Richard and Delores Berdan, were as hard-working as they come, rising early and staying up late to make sure that everyone was provided for—no small feat, considering the size of the family.
As you might expect, everyone who was provided for also contributed. No one was exempt from the myriad tasks and responsibilities of running the farm. From tending to the cows to bailing hay to making sure that the fields were free of rocks—everyone had a hand in the daily labor.
My mom carried that kind of rise-at-the-crack-of-dawn work ethic well into her adult life. Indeed, she carried it into her spirituality. Some of my most vivid and enduring memories of my childhood involve wandering downstairs at 5 a.m. for a drink of water only to see my mom sitting at the island in the kitchen, pouring over the Scriptures, pouring out her heart to God in fervent prayers muttered just under her breath. By that time, she’d generally already been at it for a half hour. She was just getting warmed up, just beginning to make her daily pilgrimage into the presence of God. Those words from the psalmist, “My soul followeth hard after thee” (Psalm 63:8, KJV)? That’s my mom.
But she wasn’t always that way. The faith of her childhood made little practical difference in her life until her mid-twenties, when she had a direct and personal encounter with Jesus. It changed everything. He became her love, her life. She sought him. He gave himself to her. Once she experienced the light and warmth of his presence, she made it her mission to keep returning to the source. Once, early on in their marriage, my dad went on a long hunting trip, and my mom decided to use the solitude for several days of fasting and prayer. Lost in prayer, she heard God speak:
He is the security you seek in money.
He is the high you seek in alcohol.
He is the ecstasy you seek in sex.
He is the health you seek in doctors.
He is the song you seek in music.
He is the dance you seek in nightclubs.
He is the beauty you seek in traveling.
He is the wisdom you seek in books.
He is the peace you seek in worry. It is Jesus whom you seek.
The same God the psalmist knew: “With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9); and Augustine knew: “Our souls are restless until they find rest in thee”; and Julian of Norwich knew: “No other heaven was pleasing to me than Jesus . . . my bliss”—my mom was coming to know. It is Jesus whom you seek.
Her early mornings were a daily renewal of her quest to know the Lord. And it showed. Always warmth in her heart. Always wise words on her lips. Always an easy smile and a quick laugh. Always a peacemaking, reconciling presence. Always strength and more than enough strength for the tasks of life—strength that she shared with others.
My mom’s way of life left a deep impression on me as a boy. Intuitively I grasped that the manner of her being—her strength, wisdom, and dignity—were connected in deep and indissoluble ways with her habit to seek the face of God before any of us were awake. She could be with us in ways that were healing because she was with God first. In his presence she daily let go of fear and anger and worry and regret to embrace the goodness of the Lord who is still making her a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). I saw then—and see now, even more clearly— that the manifest holiness and wholesomeness of her life and her daily spiritual practice were intimately connected.
As they are for all of us. If we seek to live into the Great Renunciation, we must develop some new habits.
Continue the story with The Art of Withdrawal
Andrew Arndt is the lead pastor of New Life East, one of seven congregations of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Prior to joining New Life’s team, he served as the lead pastor of Bloom Church, a network of house churches in Denver. He is the host of the Essential Church podcast, a weekly conversation designed to strengthen the thinking of church and ministry leaders. Andrew received his MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is currently working on his DMin with Western Theological Seminary. He has written for Missio Alliance, Patheos, The Other Journal, and Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Streams in the Wasteland and All Flame. Andrew lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Mandi, and their four kids.