And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12-13)
In my last entry, I talked a little bit about how I approach studying scripture and how I’d be sharing the nuts and bolts of my version of scriptural exegesis (or interpretation). However, a good friend suggested that I might want to back up and give a little more attention to a topic I glossed over too quickly: When I sit down to meditate or write, how do I quiet my brain? Like Elijah, I sometimes need to intentionally cut through all the noise so I can listen for the whisper.
Let me say two things right up front: First, I’m not an expert! I have, however, figured out what works for me, and if that helps anyone else in the world… great! Second, while not an expert, I read a LOT. I have this budget-busting habit of buying every book I can get my hands on as soon as I identify a topic I’m interested in. So over the years, I’ve read a good number of articles, essays, and books about calming inner turmoil to make room for things like positive decision-making, contemplation, and analysis. (I’ll include book recommendations below.)
Brief digression: Notice that I said “positive.” I’m all too familiar with the insidious thoughts of depression and trust me… that’s not where I want to go. To be honest, my quiet time with scripture has helped me to not only cultivate positive thoughts, but also identify when my thoughts are running off the rails so I can take steps to put them back on track. And yes… you and I have the power to do that. We really do. (Maybe a subject for another day?)
Back to the topic at hand.
- I need a quiet house. My husband has diagnosed me with “Ooh, look at that!” syndrome. I can’t slow down my brain if I’m in a new place or a place where people are going to be coming and going. Or where the tv is on. Or where music is playing. I will be distracted, and I will have ten rapid-fire thoughts within 30 seconds of each and every distraction. If you can find your quiet place in a Starbucks, more power to you. I need to be at home, in my chair, during a quiet time of day. For me, that’s 5 a.m. I don’t read the news or scan the Interwebs first thing when I get up. I do read two devotionals and drink a cup of coffee. Which leads to #2.
- Junk in… junk out. If the first thing I did every morning was look at the news, I would be a grump (putting it mildly) for the rest of the day. I’m not saying that I never read the news… I just don’t make it the first thing I see. We live in a crazy world filled with pain and suffering, and our news outlets are in fierce competition to report every bit of it. The devotions I read give me perspective and, most of all, hope. They give me a foundation of rock before I’m inundated with all the storms.
- Habits are built one day at a time. Some days are harder than others. There are mornings when I wake up before the alarm and I’m already knee deep in thinking about work or what lies in front of me that particular day. (I’m also quite adept at replaying conversations I’ve had over the past 24 hours, as well as the past 24 years.) But I get up anyway, make my coffee, and grab my devotionals. Some days I find my mind wandering as I struggle to stay focused. But I don’t give up. I have at least 30 minutes to build my foundation for that day and I’m not going to just skip that step, because without it… I know I’ll crumble.
The longer I’ve been at this, the easier it has become and the more naturally my mind is able to quiet itself. I guess you could say I’ve been consistently training it… and it’s responding well to the training! All of these techniques can be effectively transferred from quiet devotion time to reading and analyzing scripture—a topic we’ll get into a bit more next time.
For more information on getting quiet, I strongly recommend Invitation to Solitude and Silence, as well as Sacred Rhythms, both by Ruth Haley Barton.
If you’re looking for a good devotional, I’ve read many! I’m currently using Grace Notes, a collection of Philip Yancey’s writings, and Word by Word by Marilyn McEntyre. I would also highly recommend New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp, Always Enough, Never Too Much by Jess Connolly & Hayley Morgan, and 100 Days to Brave by Annie Downs.
God, thank you for the blessing of all the amazing writers who have enlightened the way ahead of me. Help each one of us who reads their wisdom become a light for someone else. Amen.