On the Porch with God


Waving my feet around in the cool water, enjoying the sight of the ripples moving across the lake, I look to where God is sitting next to me on the dock, feet also in the water. This morning we’ve been talking here by the water, as I am in a happy yet quiet mood, and the time together has been refreshing. The sun has risen high enough for us to soak in its warmth, and the view is beautiful. Our time has been spent discussing two questions: What is life-giving for me? And what is not? Lately, I’ve realized I need to put my time and effort into what I’m truly passionate about and not simply into the things I’ve been doing that may or may not still have life within them. These are tender questions as their answers involve changing my life around, and so I knew I needed something to look out upon while we talked.

For years, I have been talking with my spiritual director about prayer—about how the acts of loving someone, connecting to God through music, or writing can each be a form of prayer—and I’ve meant what I said, but recently, I began longing for something more than that, more than a quick check-in with God at the end of the day. I need to feel close to God—regular, concentrated time together to really talk. I need to sit in God’s presence, soak it in, but making time for that is hard when I’ve never had the regular discipline built into my life’s rhythms.

Our relationship has always been a very physical one. When I was younger, I would crawl up into God’s lap. As I grew older, I’d sometimes lie in God’s arms as I fell asleep. Then I stopped doing that, and I missed feeling God nearby. Last year, aching for some time to myself, I started waking up early in the mornings to read, write, draw, or solve word finds—something to help me remember me. But these activities often left God out of the equation and left me craving to know God’s presence again. So at the turn of the new year, I started a practice of meeting God for 15 minutes every morning in my favorite chair. At 7:15 a.m., I curl up, read a short devotional from a booklet my spiritual director gave me, and then close my eyes to the outside world. In my imagination, I go to God’s and my cabin on a lake in the mountains. We’ve actually been coming here, sporadically, for nine years—mostly lying in the bedroom when I was going through a difficult and transformative time, or passing time in the garden when I felt well enough to go outside and sit on a bench with God, never saying much, just sitting there. We would go to our cabin in the mountains whenever I needed a holy place to be with God or to talk about times we’ve experienced there. So when I needed somewhere to meet with God on a daily basis, the cabin was a natural choice.

On a recent trip there, we mostly sat on the porch swing overlooking the lake. It never takes God long to wrap arms around me and hold me close—God knows I need that. On the swing, we talk, take in the scene, rock back and forth, and simply be together. I love laying my head on God’s shoulder and finding rest there, unconditional acceptance and love. The porch is the place we go to most often. When I am tired and just need to curl up with God, we lie in a hammock out on the grass. Lying there with God, I feel at home, at peace, and whole. Some mornings, such as the one on the dock, we do something a little different. Giddy from my time earlier drawing and using watercolor pencils, we play on a teeter-totter as we talk. I have so much energy, I just have to bounce and play! We also climb up into the mountains when my mind is like a young puppy trying to settle down and I sense the need to sit in God’s calm presence. We take our places next to each other on a mountainside road, our backs to the green trees, and look out over slopes of lavender wildflowers with distant hills beyond. Seeing so much space below our feet helps me remember the larger, divine picture and who I am as a soul.

God’s and my hardest conversations take place in the kitchen. When I have something I need to talk over with God, something difficult for me to bring up, we go to the kitchen and I help with the baking. God gives me some dough to knead or a bowl of ingredients to stir. With my hands occupied, I can get out what I need to say and we talk things over. These are usually our most meaningful conversations. Wherever we are though, we always end our time together the same way: God lays hands on me and gives me a personal benediction, “I will bless you and keep you and make my face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.” God then kisses me on the forehead, and I get ready for the day. I love that part.

This early-morning time with God has become the most beautiful part of my day. Since starting this practice, I’ve noticed I feel God’s presence with me far more intensely than I had before, and I hear God’s voice far better, telling me things like, “She needs a hug” or “You need to share this with her.” Being more secure in God’s love, I’m willing to step out and take those chances, to touch another person’s life. In fact, lately, I’ve felt that 15 minutes with God is just not enough; I need more.

One of the reasons this time with God has become so vital to me is that I have several unmet needs in my life. It’s hard for me to admit I have needs—I usually refuse to admit them to anyone but God—but thankfully, God knows this and meets me there within them. Intimate, affectionate touch, whether from a friend or a lover, is something I rarely get. Another need stems from the lack of teachers and mentors in my life who would guide and help me in my explorations. With the exception of my spiritual director, such people are no longer around or are around rarely, and I have been floundering for guidance, not sure where to go.

This last year especially, I have been asking a lot of questions—going outside the boundaries of what I’ve previously been taught and feeling free to explore, to see things in a new way. But there is no one offering to help me figure these things out or to challenge me in what I am called to do. Where do I go? And so I go to God, for, like George Fox who also searched in vain for a guide, I hear the words, “There is one, even Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition.” God teaches people in a personal way with no go-between, no one translating. We are free to listen to the voice of God, hear what God has to say, and live it. This is what I’ve done. Every morning I go to sit with God and to hear that most beloved voice with whom to talk things over, help me understand, or give me peace when there is no understanding to be had.

Learning this way, I’ve relied more and more on God and on my own inner wisdom to guide me. God is there to talk with me directly, to discuss my questions, and the more we connect in this way, the more I realize there are no rules to our relationship with God. We can relate to God in all different ways. God is both immeasurably limitless and deeply personal, beyond our comprehension and right by our sides. I need the whole spectrum of God, and I love how utterly beyond me God is. But I still need to talk. I still need to know God is there loving me and values our conversations together. So I go to the mountains to sit by God’s side and take in the divine presence. And even if it is in my imagination, even if it is a place I’ve made up in my head, who is to say it is not real? This place is life-giving for me; beside this lake is where I find sustenance to grow, in God’s presence, morning after morning, day after day, when God creates space along with me and speaks to my condition.

Sarah Katreen Hoggatt

Sarah Katreen Hoggatt has authored several books including In the Wild Places. A freelance writer, speaker, editor, and spiritual director with a passion for ministering to fellow souls, she holds a masters degree from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Sarah lives in Salem, Ore., and is a member of RiversWay Meeting in Tigard, Ore. Includes audio reading.

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