We live in a crazy-making world. So much stimulation rushes at us with such unrelenting fury, we are overstimulated most of the time. Things that nourish us — a lingering conversation, a leisurely stroll through the park, time to savor both making and then enjoying dinner — these are being lost at an alarming rate; we simply don’t have room for them. Honestly, I think most people live their daily lives along a spectrum from slightly rattled to completely fried as their normal state of being.
In the late morning, I finally do what I should have from the beginning — I pause, get quiet, settle down. I give myself permission to simply pause, a little breathing room to come back to myself and God. My breathing returns to normal (I didn’t even notice I was holding my breath). A little bit of space begins to clear around me. Suddenly, somewhere outside, someone has just fired up a leaf blower — one of the great pariahs of the human race, the enemy of all tranquility. My body tenses, the stress returns, and because I’m paying attention, I see for myself how the constant stimulation of our chaotic world causes us to live in a state of hypervigilance.
Notice — are your muscles relaxed right now or tense? Is your breathing deep and relaxed, or are you taking short, shallow breaths? Are you able to read this leisurely, or do you feel you need to get through it quickly? Most of the day we simply plow through a myriad of diverse tasks, checking boxes, “getting stuff done.” It frazzles the soul, so we look to all our “comforters” to calm down. But I know my salvation is not in the frappuccino nor the fudge. So I close the window against the screams of the leaf blower and return to a practice that’s become an absolute lifesaver:
The One Minute Pause.
I simply take sixty seconds to be still and let everything go.
As I enter the pause, I begin with release. I let it all go — the meetings, what I know is coming next, the fact I’m totally behind on everything, all of it. I simply let it go. I pray, Jesus — I give everyone and everything to You. I keep repeating it until I feel like I’m actually releasing and detaching. I give everyone and everything to You, God. All I’m trying to accomplish right now is a little bit of soul- space. I’m not trying to fix anything or figure anything out. I’m not trying to release everything perfectly or permanently. That takes a level of maturity most of us haven’t found. But I can let it go for sixty seconds. (That’s the brilliance of the pause — all we are asking ourselves to do is let go for sixty seconds.) And as I do, even as I say it out loud — I give everyone and everything to You — my soul cooperates a good bit. I’m settling down.
I even sigh, that good sigh.
Then I ask for more of God: Jesus — I need more of You; fill me with more of You, God. Restore our union; fill me with Your life.
You’ll be surprised what a minute can do for you. Even more so as you get practiced at it. Honestly, you can do this pause nearly anytime, anywhere — in your car, on the train, after you get off your phone. I know it seems small, but we have to start somewhere. This pause is accessible; it’s doable.
As David wrote in the Psalms, “I have calmed and quieted myself” (131:2). Or, “I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.” I wonder how many people in your office, your gym, your daily commute could say they’ve cultivated a quiet heart? What we assume is a normal lifestyle is absolute insanity to the God-given nature of our heart and soul. Broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many there are who travel it.
Nonetheless, this is the world we live in, raise our kids in, navigate our careers in, and so we need to find things that are simple and accessible to begin to take back our souls. The One Minute Pause is within reach. The practice itself is wonderful, and it opens space in your soul for God to meet you there.
The desert fathers of the third and fourth century were a courageous, ragtag group, followers of Jesus who fled the madness of their world to seek a life of beauty and simplicity with God in the silent desert. For they saw the world as “a shipwreck from which every man has to swim for their life.”1 And think of it: they had no cell phones, no Internet, no media per se, not one automobile, Starbucks, or leaf blower. The news that came their way was local; they did not carry the burdens of every community in the world. They walked everywhere they went. Therefore, they lived at the pace of three miles an hour (!). Yet they felt the world sucking the life out of them, and they decided to do something about it.
And so we who live in a far more insane hour and who want to find a better life in God ought to be the first to adopt a few practices that get us out of the madness and into a more settled way of living. Most of us would be happy simply to be a little less rattled.
We live most of our year in suburbia, in a small valley on the edge of our city. Years before suburban development crept in, a convent was established here by the Sisters of St. Francis. The abbey is a medley of beautiful sandstone buildings scattered through rolling grounds of pine and juniper. The sisters have the most lovely practice of solemnly ringing church bells first thing in the morning at six. These aren’t the raucous bells that follow a wedding; these are slow, methodic rings: a call to prayer. They sound again in the evening at six. I love the resonance of old bells; they echo through our little valley like a summons out of the past. A call to prayer or silence. I decided to accept the call myself and let the bells be reminders to me to take the One Minute Pause.
A few years ago we took up the practice in our offices. At 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day, monastery “bells” ring out as a call to the staff to stop what they’re doing, let it all go, and center ourselves in Christ again. I instituted the “corporate” practice because I noticed that I simply go from one thing to another to another, without pause, from morning till night. I finish a phone call and make another. I complete one email and plow through a dozen more. Before I can get through my inbox, I go find someone I need to meet with. There’s no pause in my day, no sacred space at all. If God is going to get in, he’s practically got to force his way. And I’ve noticed that God doesn’t like to shout. He doesn’t like to be forced to gymnastics to get our attention, no more than you like having to jump up and down to get your friend or spouse to notice you’re in the room.
So I’ve seized the One Minute Pause as my sword against the madness. After I finish a phone call and before I start something else, I simply pause. When I pull into work in the morning and when I pull into my driveway in the evening, I pause. I literally lay my head down on my steering wheel and just pause, for one minute. It sounds almost too simple to be a practice that brings me more of God, but it’s very effective. Because what it does is open up soul space, breathing room. And God is right there. Over time, the cumulative effect is even better. It’s reshaping the pace of my day. It’s training my soul to find God as an experience more common than rare. I feel better. I’m now treating people more kindly.
Giving It a Try
The One Minute Pause can be used in many ways: for prayer or silence, to find your heart again, or to enjoy a moment of beauty. We’ll develop this practice as we go along in this book. For now, here’s a way to start:
Pick one or two moments in your day when you know you are least likely to be interrupted. One of those for me is when I pull into the driveway at the end of the day. I don’t have to leap from the car; I can take a moment. I turn the engine off, sometimes lay my head down on the steering wheel, and just breathe. I try to let go of the day.
It will help if you set your phone alarm to remind you. Pick a notification sound that is gracious, not adrenaline producing (“Bell,” or better “Silk.” Not “Suspense” or “News Flash” for you iPhone users). You are not sounding an alarm; you are inviting your soul to a gracious pause.
- Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert (New York: New Directions, 1960), 3.
Excerpted with permission from Get Your Life Back by John Eldredge, copyright John Eldredge.
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The world consumes us with noise, distractions, and earthly desires. How are you pausing in this season? How do you see your quiet time affect the rest of your life? Come share on our blog!