The One Minute Pause
We live in a world that triggers our souls into vigilance far too often. The complexity of modern life is mind-boggling: the constantly changing social terrain of what’s appropriate, the level of trauma we navigate in people’s lives. The typical sounds of a city trigger adrenaline responses in us all day long; that deep throbbing bass whump coming from the car four lanes over, the one you feel all through your body, is not that different from the sound of distant artillery. Thanks to the smartphone and the web, you are confronted on a daily basis with more information than any previous generation had to deal with! And it’s not just information; it’s the suffering of the entire planet, in minute detail, served up on your feed daily. Add to this the pace at which most of us are required to live our lives. It leaves very little room for that sigh and the experiences that bring it.
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. So 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.
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.
To make room for God to fill the vessel of our soul, we have to begin moving out some of the unnecessary clutter that continually accumulates there like the junk drawer in your kitchen. Everybody has a junk drawer, that black hole for car keys, pens, paper clips, gum, all the small flotsam and jetsam that accumulates over time. Our souls accumulate stuff, too, pulling it in like a magnet. And so Augustine said we must empty ourselves of all that fills us so that we may be filled with what we are empty of.
We are aiming for release, turning over into the hands of God whatever is burdening us and leaving it there. It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama in unhealthy ways, and then we are unable to see clearly, set boundaries, respond freely. When this happens in relationships, psychologists call it enmeshment.
Repeated exposure to enmeshed relationships can prevent the developing child from becoming aware of and knowing herself physically as well as emotionally. The lines between empathizing (identifying with and understanding another person’s feelings or difficulties), and overidentifying (becoming enmeshed with another person) vanish.
Mature adults have learned how to create a healthy distance between themselves and the thing they have become entangled with. Thus the word detachment. It means getting untangled, stepping out of the quagmire; it means peeling apart the Velcro by which this person, relationship, crisis, or global issue has attached itself to you. Or you to it.
Detachment means getting some healthy distance. Social media overloads our empathy. So I use the word “benevolent” in referring to this necessary kind of detachment because we’re not talking about cynicism or resignation. Benevolent means kindness. It means something done in love.
Kindness Toward Ourselves
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus taught (Mark 12:31), implying a direct link between one and the other. Loving our neighbor is clearly an essential to Christian faith; I think we all get that one. But the qualifier “as yourself” is lost on most people; it confounded me for years. It almost sounds too pop psychology, something you’d see on the cover of the magazines at the checkout stand, right next to the articles on “brain superfoods” and “how to talk to your pet.” Yet Jesus is pretty matter-of-fact about the comparison: Treat people like you treat yourself. Which I think has one of his brilliant hidden exposés in it, because we quickly realize if we treated our neighbor the way we typically treat ourselves, we wouldn’t be great neighbors. Jesus thus drives home healthy self-care as tied to loving others. If that still sounds like something from Oprah, and not the New Testament, consider this: love your neighbor as yourself is “a horrible command,” C. S. Lewis pointed out, “if the self were simply to be hated.”
The difficult truth we don’t want to admit is this: the way you treat your own heart is the way you’ll end up treating everyone else’s. We squirm; we don’t like that. We counter, “No—I’m much more patient with my daughter than I am with myself.” That may be so . . . in the short term. But over time our little frustrations begin to show themselves, and children—who are especially perceptive to approval and disapproval—can pick up the signals. If you are a “neat-nick,” I guarantee that you show more natural delight when your child straightens up their room to your standards than when they do a less-than-perfect job. The neatness touches your own issues, and you respond accordingly, “Wow—look at your room! You did a great job!” The child learns, Mom likes me more when I’m neat.
Most of the time we are completely unaware of how we treat our own heart. Our “way” with ourselves is simply our norm, and we’ve been at it so long we don’t notice, in the same way we don’t notice how much we bite our nails or finish our spouse’s sentences for them. The father who doesn’t allow himself his own emotions communicates so much to his children by that practice alone, and he further reinforces the lesson when he is visibly awkward and uncomfortable with the emotions of his child. He tries to hurry them through a “comforting” process: “I’m sorry, sweetheart. You’ll feel better tomorrow.” Or, “How about we get some ice cream?” He is thereby trying to rush the child through their emotions to a place of resolution, teaching them to be as abrupt with their own heart as he is with his. So the fact remains: the way you treat your heart is the way you’ll end up treating everyone else’s.
We are looking for more of God. You’re far more likely to find him in a walk through an orchard or a sit by a pond than you are in a subway terminal. Of course God is with us and for us wherever we are, but in terms of refreshment, renewal, restoration, in terms of finding God in ways we can drink deeply of his wonderful being, you’d do better to look for him in the cry of the gull than the scream of the siren. God inhabits the world he made; his vibrancy permeates all creation:
The whole earth is filled with his glory! (Isaiah 6:3 nlt)
Christ . . . ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Ephesians 4:9–10 nlt)
In the most beloved of Psalms, perhaps the most beloved of all scripture, David wrote a poem to celebrate the restoration of his soul. Notice that God took him into nature to accomplish that:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul. (Psalm 23:1–3)
Be careful you don’t dismiss this as something belonging to an agrarian age. God could have taken David into the palace to renew him; he could have taken him into the home of a friend or family member; he could have chosen the bustling markets of Jerusalem. In other words, there were plenty of indoor options for God to employ. But his choice for David’s resuscitation was nature, his greenhouse, filled with his own life, pulsing with his glory, unique in its ability to restore and renew his children.
Remembering Who You Love
Start with something you love. The laughter of your child. Sunlight on the ocean. Your beloved dog. A favorite song, music itself. Perhaps a photo, like my caribou. A favorite spot—your garden, the cliffs at the sea, the family cabin. Someone dear to you. We begin with the things we love; this is the way back, the path home. For we don’t always draw the connection—God made these specifically for you, and he gave you the heart to love them. You’ll be out for a bike ride in the very early morning, cool breeze in your face, all the sweet, fresh aromas it brings, the exhilaration of speed, and your heart spontaneously sings, I love this! The next step is to say, So does God. He made this moment; he made these things. He is the creator of everything I love. Your heart will naturally respond by opening toward him.
It’s like throwing your faith a lifeline: Every wonderful thing in your life is a gift from God, an expression of his heart toward you. All your precious memories, each and every one—your eighth birthday, when you got that little red bike that awakened your love of riding, which carried right on into your adult life. That perfect powder day, when you and your fiancé skied run after run, then warmed up by the fire in the lodge. The vacation you still think about, how fun it was, how carefree you felt. Your wedding reception: the dancing, the inextinguishable joy of it all. Every moment you have ever been happy, thrilled, comforted, hopeful . . . that was God loving you. Such gifts come from no other source. “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. . . . Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (Psalm 145:16; James 1:17).
No other act will bring you a greater measure of God than loving him, actively engaging your heart and soul in loving him. Because as we do, the flower of our being opens up to the sunshine of his presence and all the goodness he longs to breathe into us. The best way to get there is to think upon the things we love and remind ourselves, “This is from God; this is his true heart.”