When I was in seminary, the school took an annual trip to a nearby monastery as an opportunity for the students to pause and do nothing. I admit, I never went on the trip. I instead bombarded my classmates with questions about it:
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Nothing,” they respond.
“They forced you to do nothing?”
“They didn’t force us to do nothing. We wanted to do nothing.”
The truth was, I never went on the trip because I feared doing nothing.
I used to be a product of our noisy culture. I never wanted to slow down or take myself away from the noise. Instead, I immersed myself in it. I am an achiever, which means I like to do and listen to everything.
Many of us are like this today. We can’t imagine a time of not doing anything—of silencing our phone, of not dong work, or of not thinking about work. Many of us wake up and immediately jump into our work.
The problem is, the Bible tells us that God is best heard in the silence.
I believe this wholeheartedly. When I was addicted to the noise and busyness of daily life, I only thought about what I had to do or what I was going to do. I never paused to focus on God.
Yet pausing is how we stay tuned to God.
Now, I make sure I’m still so I can focus on more important matters—matters that transcend my to-do list and concern the health of my soul. Now I practice doing nothing.
One thing that came as an incredible revelation to me when I first set about being still is that doing nothing doesn’t actually mean you do nothing. You don’t sit still and refuse to think of anything.
Instead, doing nothing is about taking a pause from your schedule, not about literally doing nothing.
In fact, on my journey to learning how to pause better, I discovered that there 5 things you could do to establish a life-giving stillness in your day:
1. Control your thoughts
Our mind is naturally designed to make associations and chase tangents. Choosing to be still is what curbs this distraction. In being still, we train our mind to not entertain distraction.
But to do this, you must control your thoughts.
When you are first engaging in a pause, your mind will push back. It will start planning out your day or start urging you to do something. When this happens, try to redirect your thoughts to more peaceful things—like a calming memory or a Bible verse. Eventually, your mind will find it easier to think about these things instead of following tangents.
2. Do simple stretches and breathe
I say this not as an end but as a means to an end. Slow and simple movement can help you pay attention to the space you inhabit. In the art of doing nothing, doing little physical movements can help you focus better on where you are and keep you in the present.
3. Fix yourself to a beautiful sight
There are many mornings where I wake up at dark and watch the sun poke her head above the tree line and light up the sky. Sometimes, I fix my attention on this sight. It helps me control my thoughts better while also directing my thoughts to more heavenly matters.
4. Remove technology from reach
Every once in a while, there is the temptation to reach for my phone and check my email. I avoid this by setting my phone on the ground away from me so that I never reach for it in my time of stillness.
Technology has a funny way of disrupting your pauses. It does this by reintroducing you into the noise. But if you are truly going to be still, you must remove yourself from the noise altogether.
5. Ask God for the ability to listen
Simply throwing a request to God helps direct your mind in a time of stillness. If you have trouble removing the noise from your thoughts, say in your mind, “Let me listen, God.” See how God responds in your thoughts.
Doing nothing doesn’t mean zoning out. It means taking the time for intentional stillness. That is the pause that is both healthy for our wellbeing and our faith. That is the pause that gives us life.
Photography by Mikaela Hamilton
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