Deana Armstrong: When the noise of the world is too loud
March 15, 2018
I have a confession to make. I am an INFP on the Myers Briggs inventory, which, according to some spiritual directors, means I should love journaling. I don't. I don't precisely hate it, but I certainly don't love it enough to be consistent. I can go along for about 10 days at a stretch, and … oops … I missed two days. Then three.
There was a time I call the "oughts," which does not refer to the years 2000 to 2009, rather, the time when I thought I had to do things the way everybody told me I ought to do them. Well, back then, I listened to those people telling me I ought to do journaling. I ought to like it. And I just didn't, so I thought there was something wrong with me.
Maybe it was the way people told me I ought to journal. Maybe it was the fact that I hate getting up in the morning, and they told me I needed to do it early in the morning. Whatever the case, it just wasn't working for me. Eventually, I figured out that this was just frustrating me, and I stopped journaling, entirely.
This year, I decided to give it a try again, but this time, I decided I'd do it my way. No set number of minutes, no set questions that had to be answered and definitely not first thing in the morning.
Tonight, I am tired, and there is no way, I will have anything more to say (even to God), when I finish all the things that have deadlines attached. So, instead of trying to find even one thing to talk to God about, I will open my Bible and the prayer journal, read the entry, then copy the verses of scripture that go with the entry.
There's a little voice in the back of my head, that sounds a bit like my first Sunday School teacher, telling me that can't be a real spiritual discipline. I've learned to tell that voice to be quiet. It is wrong. Those nights when I'm too tired to think — emotionally and spiritually running on empty — I can copy scripture for hours. All the oughts, shoulds, have tos and deadlines fall away, and I find myself falling in love with God, yet again. That is the real purpose of any spiritual practice.
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If you find yourself running on empty and wondering whether your prayers go no higher than the ceiling, then maybe it is time to stop listening to all the people who tell you how to pray and instead read scripture, journal, or anything else. Listen to the only two experts on what feeds your soul, and do what they say.
If the noise of the world has gotten too loud and you can't hear either yourself or God, start simple.
Pick up a coloring book with Bible verses in it and a big box of crayons. Or, put your dog on a leash and go for a walk. While you are out, pick up a rock or a leaf or a penny you find on the way, and use it to remind yourself of God's presence this week. Buy some Play Dough and make something with it. Knit, quilt or crochet. Turn on the heat in the woodshop, and make a box or a cross or something else, entirely. Throw a pot on a potter's wheel, or chip away at rock until a dinosaur appears.
Whatever you do, do it with listening ears, and eventually, you will hear God speaking in the click of the needles, the whirl of the saw blades, or you'll feel God's presence in the pressure of the crayon against the paper and the pull of the yarn. In these moments, God's message is:
"Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, Good News Bible)
The Rev. Deana Armstrong is pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Craig.