The other day I was going through a devotional book I have, and as it went through an examination of conscience this question popped out to me: “Is our mind always empty to any other thought [other than Jesus] in order to give rise to grace?”
At first thought, this sounds quite impossible and unrealistic. What does it mean? I have so much to think about. How can my mind be empty to anything but Jesus unless I am a nun in a convent? Would God actually blame me for too many thoughts?
As I reflected, I decided that the book was not saying that lay people should do nothing all day but pray or think of nothing except Jesus, but that our minds should be empty of any thought other than what brings us closer to Jesus and His will for my life. This isn’t necessarily earth-shatteringly overtly religious. My school work or daily activities bring me closer to Jesus so long as I give them to Him and do them with Him by my side.
But we are bombarded with unimportant thoughts! And sometimes we give our daily work to Jesus so infrequently. How many thoughts race through my head in a given day which have absolutely no bearing on my life? Or which don’t need to have bearing on my life but which I make too big a deal out of? How much intake of pointless Facebook memes have I had over the past few years? How many concerns in the news which ought not to concern me?
This isn’t a knock to healthy recreation time or to awareness of what is going on in our world. But if there is no space in my brain, God cannot move in and tell me what He wants for my life. I go to daily Mass, but sometimes I can barely concentrate—my mind is idling on every which topic, none of which I can even recall after Mass because they are not truly important. They are just empty thoughts. Because my mind has had no time to rest. I have considered this my mind’s way of calming itself down because during the day I am moving constantly from one thing to the next, and my mind needs time to rest and process.
The problem is that if my mind is busy or idle at key points of the day where I am supposed to be listening to God, I am no longer giving God my attention and I will lose the close connection with Him that allows me to understand and follow His will for my life. If the key to obedience to God is listening and open communication with Him, then I need to starve my brain of unimportant thoughts so I can, “give rise to grace.” The Scripture says we should be praying constantly. That means we have to be constantly pushing out thoughts that are less important to make room for this VIP priority!
In order to have this kind of focus and active presence with the Lord we also need to set aside specific quiet time with Him. If you pray already in the morning and night, perhaps it would be beneficial to take a few minutes mid-day to refocus and be still. It seems counterintuitive when we have such busy lives to add more prayer time, but in actuality people who have added prayer to their lives find their day to be more fulfilling and productive. I heard that Mother Teresa’s sisters once complained to her, “Mother, why do we have to pray for an hour each day? We could be getting so much done in that hour, helping the poor.” And she replied, “You’re right, we could be getting so much more done. It will be two hours of prayer.” And with those two hours of prayer the sisters found they were getting much more done overall. Their hours of missionary work were supercharged through a closer relationship with and obedience to Christ.
What is your favorite way to create quiet time with the Lord? What are your tips for dumping busy or anxious thoughts of the day so you can listen to Him?