Yesterday I stayed in bed later than usual. I’ve been tired and achy, and I was facing several long days, so I indulged myself. The downside was that I couldn’t get my typical 45-minute to one-hour time of Scripture reading and prayer time in that morning. And with the day that was facing me, my quiet time would have to wait till bedtime.
This ate at me all day long. My routine was off. And I’m a list-keeper. I couldn’t check “quiet time” off my list. That was just wrong. Nothing messes with my list.
My childhood friend Erika was a list-keeper. She was proper, reserved and highly intelligent. Our personalities were polar opposites, so I was very surprised when she approached me during school one day to ask if I could come spend the night. I said yes without even asking permission, and after school the next day I trekked across town carrying a paper grocery bag as an overnight bag.
Erika’s house was like Erika herself: impressive in an almost unapproachable way. The large English tudor loomed through the trees on a spacious lot toward the end of a quiet street. Feeling unworthy, I nervously walked down up the front porch and rang the bell. Erika’s mother, a German opera singer, opened the door, revealing an opulent interior.
An antique European-looking piano was immediately to the left of the foyer. A musician, I immediately asked if anyone played. Yes, Erika’s mom said as her eyes directed Erika to the piano, where Erika reluctantly sat.
“I don’t want to play right now,” Erika moaned.
“Shush,” her mother scorned in her half-singing, half-speaking tone. “Play that Beethoven piece, the one you’ve been working on with your teacher.”
I wasn’t prepared for what followed. Erika’s fingers became like so many soldiers that marched with precision and rapidly along the keys, subjugating them under their dominion. The old piano shuddered under the forceful hands that commanded it as Erika stared disinterestedly at the black sea of notes before her.
Completing the piece, Erika immediately stepped away from the piano, eager to move on to something that interested her. I stood there stunned. Her performance had been technically perfect but completely lacking passion.
“Wow, you’re really good,” I confessed. “How long have you been playing?”
“Eight years. But I want to stop taking lessons,” Erika said, glaring over her shoulder at her mother as we mounted the ornate winding staircase to her room.
Watching her had been like seeing a musical interpretation of my then-favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, in which a central force called IT commands loveless obedience of all its subjects. It was, in fact, love that finally defeated the great machine and gave freedom from bondage to its subjects.
As I grew to know Erika better, I realized many areas of her life were technically perfect. She was always impeccably dressed. Her manners were perfect, her speech well-rehearsed. She graduated valedictorian of a very large class. She went on to receive multiple degrees.
Erika never married. The last we talked, several years ago, she and her mother remained in that formidable house whose doors had long ago closed to any outside influences. She remained fit, disciplined, well-kept and completely disinterested in anything that threatened the sanctity of her superficially perfect existence.
I must admit that I share some of Erika’s leanings. Never having known the love of my parents, I was – as I’ve shared before – the quintessential overachiever in an endless attempt to win the favor of those around me. If people couldn’t adore me, at least they could admire me.
After recommitting my life to Christ in my late 20s, I soon was discipled by a member of the Navigators, who stress good spiritual habits. So I memorized hundreds of Scriptures, established ever-growing daily quiet times, memorized and rehearsed evangelism methods, conducted Bible studies and learned how to do all the things a good Christian is supposed to do.
These are all good things. The difficulty, however, for someone with my proclivities is that these things can become a form of legalism. We can become so caught up in checking off our list of spiritual disciplines that we miss out on the relationship that is at the core of it all. We become like the Pharisees, whom Jesus repeatedly chastised for their heartless commitment to tradition at the expense of a true communion with Christ. Our regimented religiosity can become a stumbling block to ourselves as well as to those around us.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to,” Jesus scolded in Matthew 23:13.
A good thing happened to me last night. I couldn’t wait till the day was over so I could spend some time reading my Bible and speaking with the Lord. And I couldn’t wait till I got up this morning to return to my normal routine. It was love that moved me. And when I got up this morning to spend that hour with Him, He was there waiting for me.
His mercies are made new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.