As Ben and Bob have already observed, Rich’s sermon this week was about being alone. How often are we alone, with only our thoughts for company? Do we deliberately seek time alone to reflect on our lives and realize our identity in Christ, or do we distract ourselves from serious thinking with reading, TV, video games, music, Facebook…? What does it mean to be a Christian when we’re alone?
Much of the sermon focused our attention on the innumerable ways in which we avoid being alone with our thoughts. This was interesting to me, since being alone with my thoughts is my default mode—and I usually enjoy it. I’m almost always analyzing and reflecting, turning things over in my mind. I am reflective to a fault. (This is no doubt why I’m sometimes anxious.) In fact, I deliberately choose some distractions so that I can stop thinking about things.
Rich also stated that if we don’t even ask ourselves what God might be teaching us in a particular situation, we aren’t responding to that situation in a Christian way. I thought about this observation for quite a while. Does this mean that non-reflective extroverts aren’t Christians? I have a friend who says that I taught him how to be introspective; before then he didn’t know how to do it! But Rich pointed out that both introverts and extroverts have a problem with distraction; it’s just that the distractions may be different.
Here’s where the sermon connected with me. Although I have no problem with solitude or reflection, I have to admit that my tendency is not to ask what God is trying to teach me in and through the events of my life. I try to understand things that happen and learn from them—even learn about myself—but I rarely stop long enough to listen to what God might want to say to me. As I learned when I started to practice listening in my prayer life, silence is easy for me but listening is hard.
I have as many habitual distractions as anyone else. And even when I get away from the external distractions, I have a lot of interior noise that can drown out the voice of God. I’ve found that a break in my routine can help. The best thing I’ve done along this line is to do five-day silent retreats at a couple of Trappist monasteries. It usually takes me two days to slow down enough to be able to listen!
Not everyone has the luxury to go on retreat—and I don’t do it very often!—but as Rich said, all of us can carve out a few minutes to practice attentiveness to ourselves in relation to God. Rich suggested doing this while we’re in the bathroom, but we can do it during any activity that doesn’t require a lot of thought, such as taking a shower, mowing the lawn, folding laundry, walking on a treadmill, riding a bike, weeding a garden. Some people call this mindfulness, simply being aware of ourselves in the presence of God. We can do this in the confidence that we are loved by God and always welcome.
So I don’t think I’m going to pick up on Rich’s bathroom suggestion, but as the new school year gets started, I am going to try to find a time that works for me where I can be mindful of myself and God—and see if God has anything to say. How about you?