Embracing the Inconvenient Adventure of Intimacy with God


By Keri Wyatt Kent

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Think you don’t have time or space for spiritual stuff? That intimacy with God is impossible?

Here’s how-in the life you already live-you can make time and space for God.

Godspace offers seven practices that help busy Christians pay attention to God. They help us align our sometimes messy daily lives with our spirituality. And they strengthen our most important relationships, giving our lives meaning, significance, and purpose. It’s not holding a set of beliefs, reading the Bible, going to church, or even praying that determines how we connect with God. It’s our pace of life. When we live hurried and distracted lives, we miss the chance to experience the intimacy we desire with God. Experience God more deeply and live more joyfully by exploring these seven spiritual practices:

  • Sabbath
  • Hospitality
  • Worship
  • Simplicity
  • Gratitude
  • Generosity
  • Critical thinking

With abundant wit, humorous anecdotes, and authentic sharing of her own joys and struggles, Keri Wyatt Kent guides us toward a deeper and more meaningful faith in the midst of our overcrowded, cluttered lives. A lay pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, where she has been a member for thirty years, Kent is the author of eleven books. She speaks at events and retreats around the country. Learn more at http://www.keriwyattkent.com.


In Our Crowded Life,
Where Does God Fit?

Where is the space for God?

Spiritual disciplines like prayer, study, and solitude have been recommended as ways to connect with God, dive deeper spiritually, grow in faith. These practices would be great, if we had the time, right?

When I first came back to church, after a brief but spectacularly unsatisfying year or two of postcollege wandering, I wanted a deep spiritual life. God hungry, I craved more than an obligatory “daily quiet time” could provide. I chafed under the odd legalism of evangelical subculture, longed for a richer experience of faith, a way to embrace mystery and contemplation. Finding myself at a large church, I joined a small group where we read and discussed both Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines and Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, comparing them side by side. I was kind of the wild child of the group, but I felt loved and accepted. We talked about practices like solitude, prayer, fasting, and so on. I loved and needed both the community of the group and these disciplines. I eagerly scheduled days at Catholic retreat centers, dabbled with fasting (until the night I passed out at church from not eating all day), and even began writing books about spiritual practices. Exploring deeper spirituality, ancient paths rediscovered, spiritual transformation, and contemplation fed my soul.

Such ancient practices can connect us to God, enliven our souls. But it’s been said that the trouble with finding a way to God is that we grow to love the way more than we love God. Our practices can help, or hinder. My own spiritual practices drew me closer to God, yet tempted me to pride. I could easily feel quietly superior to those who didn’t practice their faith in the same way I did. My delight in discovering a more contemplative faith had a shadow side, which looked down on those who had not yet explored what I considered to be a better way to relate to God. I’d become just a little judge-y sometimes, which threatened to undo all the ways in which I had grown deeper. A day at the monastery fed my soul. My pride, however, unwittingly starved it. Thankfully, leaning into these practices offers a gentle self-correction. When I got quiet, I’d become painfully aware of my own judgmental attitude, mourn my own pride, realize how far I had to go.

And any spiritual practices can only help if we have time for them. If we try to squeeze in some solitude, shoehorn in a bit of contemplation, pack an extra prayer into a life already crammed too full, those life-giving disciplines deflate, lose their potential power. We might be very religious about prayer or study, but are those practices actually helping us grow, connect with God, change to become Christ-like? Practices can be wonderful, but if they’re part of an overcrowded, too-busy life, they are more likely to veer into the ditch of legalism, or feel like a burden.

They can become a source of pride. We can make them an attempt to earn God’s favor—even though we may not dare say that out loud or even admit that motive to ourselves. They can become yet another obligation in our overcommitted lives. Their meaning can leach out over time, leaving empty rituals where connection once flourished. I know this because I’ve made these mistakes.

I’ve also found that traditional practices can be compartmentalized. You can get really good at the practices, but they can feel disconnected from your real life—you know, the life where you squabble with your husband and nag your kids and are running late for work again, and the life where you sit on the front porch with your friends, have a beer, and talk about stuff—like how your marriage is actually doing, how parenting teenagers is genuinely hard, why you think you might quit your job, or how someone you thought was a friend let you down. Solitude, silence, study, prayer, even fasting, all have their place. But it’s easy to do these things and then go back to real life. The life where you are yourself, for better or worse. Spirituality, disembodied from both our struggles and our joys, will likely whither.

After years as a spiritual-formation writer and speaker, I realized that what has formed my spirit the most is not how often I get away for a solitude retreat but what I do when I get home. My daily life—how I respond to my neighbors and my family—is just as formational, and sometimes harder, than spending time in solitude or prayer.

The way I found God space—sacred moments in which we encounter the holy—was to begin to see all of my life as lived in the space of God.

Finding God space is like trying to put more air into your life. Air is all around you, but you don’t notice it. Just as you may not think about air, you can ignore God if you are moving too fast, rushing around distracted. By slowing down, you can begin to see that everyday life is soaked with the presence of God. You can see God if only you reframe your life a bit. If you stop, breathe, and live your faith, you engage in what some call an embodied spirituality. The term embodied spirituality, like many other terms that belonged in ancient days to Christianity, has been co-opted by other traditions—including Paganism and New Age. My goal is to reclaim for Jesus followers this accurate descriptor of living faith, to remind us that it was a Christian term to begin with.

Our faith is not just what we think, or even believe. It’s not a list of our philosophical oppositions, although to listen to some Christians, you might mistakenly draw that conclusion. Our soul, housed in our body, is transformed in part by our actions and practices, what we do with our body. Simply slowing down is done with your body.

As the Bible says, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20 KJV). We make our faith a reality by what we do. Whether that’s opening our home to someone as we practice hospitality, or taking the time to rest on Sabbath, we don’t just contemplate it, we take bodily action.

As Dallas Willard explains, “The secret of the standard, historically proven spiritual disciplines is precisely that they do respect and count on the bodily nature of human personality. They all deeply and essentially involve bodily conditions and activities. Thus they show us effectively how we can ‘offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God’ and how our ‘spiritual worship’ (Rom. 12:1) really is inseparable from the offering up of our bodies in specific physical ways.”1

Willard also notes, “The human body is the focal point of human existence. Jesus had one. We have one. Without the body in its proper place, the pieces of the puzzle of new life in Christ do not realistically fit together, and the idea of really following him and becoming like him remains a practical impossibility.”2

If your goal is only to get really good at spiritual practices, or if you’re reading this because you think you should or ought to, I suggest you revise that goal. This book is an invitation to live in grace—with your whole self. Actions that genuinely create space for God are not motivated by legalism or an attempt to earn God’s favor. They’re a response to a winsome invitation, a way of diving deeper into the adventure of intimacy with God.

Spiritual practices, which Christians have engaged in for centuries, are not something we do in order to get good at doing them. The aim of prayer, for example, is not to be excellent at praying, but to draw closer to God. The goal is not impressing God, or anyone else, but intimate communion with God. If our objective in prayer is to get good at anything, it would be to get really skilled at listening to God, to live more fully aware of grace. We pray not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. Prayer tunes our ear to the divine whisper, not so that we might brag of our spiritual depth, but so that we would hear and obey God. The invitation: to love others out of the overflow of God’s love for us, made known to us by the communion we experience when we truly listen, instead of merely talk.

In the same way, other practices form us into people who love our neighbors and love God—Christ-like people—rather than people who are experts at religious activities. If we should desire to make progress in anything, it should be advancement toward Christ-likeness. We tend to act like the people we hang around with, so intimacy and connection with Jesus will begin to transform our actions and our thoughts. These practices will offer God room to work in your life, to transform you into a person who looks and acts more like Jesus. Practices do not earn God’s favor or meet any divine requirement. Practices are simply ways to respond to the grace, the unmerited favor, we have already received.

“I’m So Busy!”

We can get very busy for God, rush past opportunities for intimacy. Our default answer to the casual “How are you?” is the descriptor for life in the twenty-first century: “So busy!” We say we’re busy because we equate it with significance. We feel busy even when we are not. The stress of handling onslaughts of information, decisions, images, and words assails us. We’re busy and, as a result, weary. We long for rest, for margin, for space. God longs for that space as well, longing to fill it with presence, intimacy, joy, grace.

We say we have no time, but perhaps it would be more accurate to say we’re distracted. We think we don’t have a moment but find time to update the world on the details of our day via social media or binge-watch television. I know this from experience. I’ll log on to Facebook just to check and then realize an hour later that I am simply surfing through updates from people I don’t actually know in real life, or watching videos of dogs, horses, or little kids who can sing like Pavarotti. (I’m not a cat person, sorry. Otherwise cat videos would be in this list.)

Hurry taints even our spirituality. A franticness keeps us at the surface and doesn’t let us rest in God’s presence. We rush through prayer. We add another church activity to our crammed schedules. We faithfully read our Bible but forget what we’ve read a moment later. Our faith can feel disconnected, hollow.

To our weary souls, God offers the Sabbath. Wrapped in the words of commandment and law, we may not recognize it for what it is: a gift. The only way to unwrap it is to practice it. When we do so—not perfectly, not legalistically, but expectantly and humbly—we receive the gift, the grace, of time. We all are given seven days in a week. What we do with those days can allow us to see God and experience the divine, or not.

What if the ancient practice of Sabbath—a day to set aside work and focus on God—could be the gateway to other practices that impact our pace of life, our experience of God’s grace, our awareness of God’s presence? What if taking a day off actually made us more patient, gentle, more aware of the needs of others?

What if other spiritual disciplines, flowing out of Sabbath, could also open up space for God? What if slowing our pace allowed us to enjoy God in new ways, through practices we might never have considered? What if loving our neighbor begins with slowing down enough to actually notice our neighbor? What if our daily lives could be interwoven with practices we didn’t have to go to the monastery to engage in?

If we slow down a bit, we might have time to consider the questions: What does the pace of my life have to do with the health of my soul? How does the health of my soul impact the people around me, the people I’m trying to love: spouse, neighbors, kids?

We sometimes define faith as intellectual assent to certain truths. We argue about ideas, judge who is in and out based on philosophical or political positions. While right belief is essential, it is not the whole story. Orthopraxy (right practice) is just as important as orthodoxy (right doctrine). Our contemplation should lead to action. Our faith, to practice. Our knowledge about God, to deep communion with God. We do not always live in this truth.

We say that everything is spiritual, yet we actually believe certain things are more spiritual: praying parroted words, eyes shut and hands folded; dutifully filling in the blanks in our Bible study workbook; wondering what we’re doing wrong when the right way to connect with God doesn’t quite work for us anymore.

We need some new ways to commune deeply with God. That means we must create space for God, find God space in our busy lives.

Deep communion with God won’t happen by squeezing God into a life full to bursting with busyness. A life full of obligations and stress, that has no margin, no time, won’t accommodate God space.

What if the way to find “God space”—open space for God in our lives, schedules, hearts—was to live at “God’s pace”?

What if adjusting the pace of our lives to God’s sacred rhythms could help us find God space—sacred moments in which we encounter the holy? What if the presence of God we seek is right there, but we miss it when we move to the demands of the culture instead of to God’s gentle invitation?

Practice, not perfection, is the path to orthopraxy. We engage in ways of living that usher us into God space at God’s pace. The practices in this book all invite us to live out our faith, to live and act in ways that reflect the grace of Sabbath, a pace that is unhurried yet deliberate and productive. We can learn to travel at God’s pace via practices that seem unrelated to time: worship, hospitality, generosity. For these things cannot be done in a hurry. By their very nature, these practices, both new and ancient, invite us to slow down, to quiet our restless hearts, to rest in God’s goodness where we begin to change.

Practices Bring Alignment

A year ago, my then-twenty-one-year-old daughter wrote me a birthday letter. Our family joke is that my love language consists of mushy letters in which my husband or children write or speak words of affirmation. It took years of training to get my husband to embrace this. One of our birthday traditions when the kids were growing up was to go around the dinner table and tell something we liked about the birthday person.

This birthday, a hoped-for visit had been delayed and my daughter was not at my table, but in California at college. She wrote a note that said, “I’m sorry you couldn’t be in California for your b-day. Instead of writing you a mushy letter, I decided to compile a list of values that I am grateful you raised me with…” She then listed thirteen random values beginning with “hospitality, gathering people around the table,” and moving on to “Sabbath Sundays, quiet time,” and some I didn’t expect, like “very limited television” and “chores, pitching in.” Her list also included “caring for the poor” and “simple living.” And also, “learning from my own mistakes” and “letting me be my own person.”

The letter is a treasure; I have it hanging on the wall by my desk, because, yes, those are all values I raised her to embrace. I sometimes wondered whether those values would stick, but for the most part they have. I also want it there to remind me to keep on living according to those values, engaging in those practices.

To teach those values, we didn’t just talk about them. We practiced them. We embodied them. We practiced Sabbath, we practiced letting the kids learn from their mistakes, we practiced hospitality. It was not always easy.

Nothing compares to a child as a mirror of your life. From the time they first speak and you cringe to hear them mimicking your not-so-pretty words and tone of voice, to the teen years where they push so hard against boundaries you set, to young adulthood where they begin, you hope, to live according to what you taught, they reflect you.

My daughter’s letter, and countless other conversations, got me thinking about spiritual practice, and how we impart values to our children, how we reinforce those values in ourselves. Does our ideology align with our actual life? Practices are what bring about that alignment—slowly, over time. So when I thought about practices that have formed me and my family spiritually, ones I wanted to offer to you, my reader, I started with my daughter’s list.

Listening to Your Life

Parker Palmer once wrote, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”3

If I listen to my life, I come to an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth: I’m often more comfortable with people outside the church than in it. I’m a strong feminist. I love Jesus but I don’t fit the “church lady” mold. I’m an 8 on the Enneagram, which means I can be difficult, opinionated, strong-willed. Nicknamed “the challenger,” 8s are, according to one summary, “self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.” That’s a pretty accurate description of me, which, in the church, would be more acceptable if I were a dude. But I’m not.

I tried for a long time to be the contemplative, deep, spiritual formation gal. I wasn’t inauthentic; I found it life-giving, and it balanced out the side of me that is a bit tightly wound. Because I’m by nature opinionated and assertive, I questioned my own ability to be contemplative and deep. Could I be both? I almost gave up on the whole contemplative thing, but I realized that while the contemplative practices are helpful and necessary, I also had to figure out how to balance those with practices that engage my daily life.

Solitude and silence, prayer and contemplation—these are helpful, yet not the only way to grow in Christ-likeness. When I loved the not-so-lovable (that sometimes included my immediate family) that was a spiritual practice. When I chose to be generous, even if I didn’t feel like it, it formed my soul. When I offered a cup of cold water or a meal to strangers, or to my own children, I was not just obeying Jesus but becoming more like him. In other words, practices that are merely part of my daily living had just as much potential impact on spiritual growth as activities I’d elevated to be more spiritually significant. Sharing a meal can be as formational as prayer—if you approach it as such.

GodSpace offers you an opportunity to play with untraditional spiritual practices, new disciplines, and consider the possibility that God could meet you in unexpected ways.

This book will explore seven practices that individuals, groups, and even families can do to live at God’s pace, in order to create some God space. These seven don’t comprise an exhaustive list. They’re some I’ve found helpful as I’ve tried for more than two decades to intentionally live in what I call Sabbath Simplicity. I don’t have it all figured out. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve tried to learn from those mistakes. I hope by telling you my story, you will be encouraged, guided, or at least know you’re not the only one desperate for a little margin.

A simpler, saner life is possible. This book will help you move toward it without having to go to a monastery. I’m inviting you to a lifestyle, not offering a religious to-do list. The first practice, Sabbath, informs all the others. All are interconnected, are part of a theology of Sabbath, a way of unpacking the grace and gift of Sabbath time.

Join me on the journey to find some God space, by living at God’s pace.


Space in My Calendar

Fire, fierce and warming, glows in the worn brick fireplace. The washing machine swishes steady in the background.

Sabbath is over, but glows like an ember in the early darkness of an autumn evening.

Sabbath crept in unannounced at sundown Saturday, as we had dinner with friends at their home. I’d served those friends by watching their kids for the afternoon. So Sabbath began with a meal around a table with friends. Conversation with kids and adults was peppered with moments of tender conversation, and moments of wiping up spilled Gatorade. After dinner, the dads and kids played Wii bowling.

Sunday morning my son left early to meet his small group leader for breakfast before church, my daughter went to lead her small group in the three-year-old room at church, and my husband and I went to church. We went in different directions, but all experienced community. Thanks to texting, we kept in touch through the day.

After church I came home and lounged on the couch, reading. My daughter read and napped upstairs. My son sent a text that he was going out to lunch with friends. I read an article about walking in the woods. Inspired, I went for a walk in the woods, enjoying a cool but sunny fall afternoon. Milkweed loosed its hold on fluffy contents, ancient pear trees in a meadow held their fruit even though their leaves had already fallen. Sabbath is an open day, when there is nothing else I have to do. It makes you walk differently, more attentive and less driven.

I came home, puttered a bit in the garden, let myself be sun-kissed and dirt-stained. I cannot think of a more perfect day than one I can spend outside playing in the garden. I divided perennials, snipped and trimmed a few branches. Breathed in fall air, talked with and listened to Jesus.

Later, I cooked—a creative enterprise that never feels like work to me. My daughter and I snacked on the roasted carrots and parsnips as soon as I pulled them from the oven, and she took notes on how I make my pork chops with apples and onions.

“I’m glad you’re a good cook,” she said.

“I’m glad you’re not a picky eater,” I replied.

“I think those two might be related.”

We talked about college applications, which led to a conversation on our Myers-Briggs profiles. Which I had plenty of time for, because I didn’t need to go anywhere, do anything. I was fully present, discussing the introvert-extrovert question, as we ate veggies straight off the baking sheet. We got too full from eating all the carrots to even want the dinner, so I left it on the stove until my son came home from playing volleyball.

Sabbath is a day when I am never too busy to do what I am doing. Where structure is released, have-tos banished.

I don’t force my kids to “do” Sabbath with me (I’m glad they go to church at this stage of the game), but they know that on Sunday, they can find me, and that I am imminently interruptible. That availability is part of my Sabbath practice, and one they count on.

Around dinnertime, my son came home and sat down to devour the pork chops and a baked potato. He told me about his day.

Sabbath is a day when this working mom slows down enough to listen. To listen to a pear tree rattling in the wind. To listen to a daughter who is discovering who she is, and trying to figure out how to communicate that discovery on her college applications. To listen to a son who finds joy in spending most of his Sunday at church or in community. To listen to the voice of my own gladness, which calls me to the woods and to the backyard and to rest.

Sabbath for us is a sundown-to-sundown day, so technically, as soon as I need the lights on in the house, the day is over. Which is why I am back on the computer, writing this. And why the washing machine labors. And yet, the peace that the day of rest brought lingers like the fragrance of the wood-burning fireplace, companionable and warm.


  • "We have filled our homes with stuff, our calendars with activities, and our hearts with a desire for more. Keri Wyatt Kent's GODSPACE invites us to declutter our hearts, our homes, and our calendars in order to make room for the inconvenient wonder of God's presence. Kent tells stories from her own life and offers practical suggestions on how we can open ourselves up to God's work in our homes, our communities, and the world. With humor, insight, and concrete examples, Keri Wyatt Kent has written a book that encourages me to make meaningful changes that will enable less space for disappointment and more space for God." —Amy Julia Becker, author of A Good and Perfect Gift and Small Talk

On Sale
Sep 5, 2017
Page Count
208 pages

Keri Wyatt Kent

About the Author

Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of ten books and the co-author of many more. She continually writes for a variety of print and digital publications, including Christianity Today, Gifted for Leadership, the High Calling, SmallGroups.com, and Today’s Christian Woman. She also serves as lay pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, where she has been a member for almost thirty years.

Learn more about this author