This is not true:
Winter, with its inwardness, is upon us. A man is constrained to sit down, and to think.
~Henry David Thoreau
I wish this were true, but it’s not. Not anymore.
Last weekend, we had an ice storm. It was beautiful and dangerous: trees bowing in submission under the glassy weight of it all, and cars careening into walls and into each other as their wheels grasped at nothing. Many people lost power and shivered by firelight for days. Those people, until all batteries died, probably were forced to sit and think — at least about how miserable they were!
For everyone else, it was exciting to get a day or two or four off of work, albeit a bit maddening after a while to be iced in, but they still had TV, Internet, iPods, iPads, iPhones, (i, i, i, i…), video games, etc. How many were truly forced to sit and to think?
We are a culture that does not much value sitting and thinking; we are a culture that makes sure no one ever has to sit and think. (And we wonder at the difficulties teachers have.) There are pockets of deviant individuals who do still value this archaic exercise, but as a whole, we as a people do not. We are obsessed with entertainment (i, i, i, i…); we feel we have the right to be entertained constantly, and therefore we feel we need to be entertained constantly. In fact, we have no idea what to do with the gift of a few empty moments. This comes with a hefty price, as we abandon God’s gift of Himself and embrace something more sinister:
Entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy.
We don’t know joy because we don’t take time for it. Constantly drugged, never sober, we accept a lie that ends in death. We rush through small, quiet moments looking for noise, for distraction, for anything to take us away from facing the pain and realities of life. As we push away the pain, we push away the joy, too.
Even with each other, we’ve lost the art of intimacy. Of spending time with another. Of conversation. Of listening and sharing and being vulnerable. Of being a friend, a neighbor. Next time you’re in public — at a restaurant, in the grocery store — look around you. Count how many people are NOT using a phone or electronic device. (Earbuds connect to an electronic device, by the way.) Do the same at the next family gathering or get-together with friends. How long until you or I check out and dull our senses on our phones?
We can’t even BE with other people; how can we possibly BE with ourselves?
And then — and this is literally of infinite importance — how can we possibly hear God? We wonder where He is, why He is silent, all the while we’re doing everything we can to drown Him out.
Regardless of the weather, we are generally never “constrained” to sit and to think. Never. For those who found themselves cold and at the end of their battery life this past weekend, I hope some let themselves embrace it and grow their souls a little bigger and a little deeper. As a general rule, however, if we want to hear Him — if we want to find joy — we must willingly impose these constraints on our lives. We must initiate and embrace those empty moments regularly and welcome Him to fill them. (And we must push through and not give up after two minutes, or five, or ten, or even after six tries of an hour each time. It’s a discipline with great reward. No one ever said sitting and thinking was easy; but then again nothing that’s worth it ever is.)
For all of us, regardless of how we respond to Him and to His quiet gift of empty moments, and regardless of whom or what we choose to be our god in His place, He WILL be exalted.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
(With or without us.)
Now that is beautiful and dangerous.