Be still and know that I am God. -Psalm 46:10
How much time do you spend in your mind, lost in world of racing thoughts concerning anything and everything but the present moment?
Do you find yourself habitually living in a state of anxious deliberation fueled by past ponderings or future fears— instead of being fully present to God, yourself and others?
Such unbridled thinking—which 12 Step Programs refer to as “stinking thinking’” and Buddhists call “the monkey mind”—literally keeps us “beside ourselves”—instead of resting with a centered awareness of both God’s within, and all around us.
Lately, I’ve become increasingly aware of how difficult it is to stay present to the present, of how quickly one can drift into a no man’s land of fearing, fretting, and fantasizing. This point was driven home last Sunday morning as I sat on the front porch of my sister’s Mississippi bungalow gazing contentedly at the sugar white beach and sparkling Gulf waters before my eyes. All was well with my soul as I enjoyed a contemplative moment of silence basking in the majesty of God’s creation and the hush of his calming presence.
With lightning speed, my thoughts turned to the day’s news of hurricanes, earthquakes and a potential war with North Korea, and just that fast — as though a switch had been flipped — a wave of adrenaline-fueled unrest washed over me. I was instantly aware that I had surrendered a beautiful moment of gratitude and peace-filled joy to a more familiar (and less healthy) state of mind: the anxious preoccupation with something external to me—something that pulled me off center and away from resting in God’s holy presence.
As the week went on, I began to take note of how much time I was spending off-kilter and outside of myself via chronic negative thinking, and how little time I was resting in God from moment to moment.
Glancing at the culture around us, it’s pretty apparent that I’m not alone in this problem.
So why is letting our thoughts run amok such a bad habit? Because it keeps us living beside ourselves, instead of in what St. Paul called the “inner self”—the inmost center of our being that is made to “be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:16,19). It is only in the inner self, which Jesus called our “inner room” (Mt. 6:6) that we can truly come to know “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and experience the “breath and length and height and depth” of that love (Eph. 3:18).
Everyone wants that, right? So why do we avoid our inner room?
Because going into the inner self also means that we will go to the places that are weak, poor, wounded, and sinful—the painful places we need to enter with God, so he can save us, heal us, and fill us with his love and mercy.
As St. John of the Cross beautifully articulated, “In the inner stillness where meditation leads, the Spirit secretly anoints the soul and heals our deepest wounds.”
But here’s the rub: healing our deepest wounds also means facing our deepest wounds—the weaknesses, poverties and frailties that we sometimes spend a lifetime trying to avoid by being preoccupied with everything that’s around us instead of what’s in us.
Sadly, in the end, avoiding ourselves not only means that we avoid God, it also means that we miss out on the abiding peace God desires for us—peace that is formed and fashioned in our inner being by what Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection called “practicing” God’s presence.
Just as bad habits like “stinking thinking” are formed over time, good habits like practicing the presence of God also take time, intentionality and persistence. That, plus a continual plea for God’s grace and help that we may unlearn the habit of living outside ourselves and begin to rest continually in God’s good company.
When you pray, go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will repay you. -Matthew 6:6