Why Is It So Hard To Think?

I love the feeling that comes when I’ve thought a straight path through a difficult problem and found a solution. I love it when my brain connects all the dots and finally sees things clearly, when pieces are falling together and ideas are springing up and blooming all around me. It’s great to be there. I’d love to be there more often. The trouble is that, for me, this rarified ground of a high-functioning mind is hard to get to. Sometimes, when the day is done, I look at the excellent books I have, many of which I’ve yet to read. I want to know what they say, I want to think about the world and my place in it and how to make tomorrow better than today, but my mind is tired and then somehow I’m on Facebook laughing at a meme and before I know it, it’s past time for bed. How did that happen? Why is it so hard to think?

One reason is obvious: distraction. It takes time and space to dig up deep thoughts, and quiet. Which is a problem, because all of these things are scarce in the modern world. Earbuds, apps, Netflix, news, there’s always something to look at, listen to, or be angry about. There’s always something. The only thing missing? Nothing. Which is just what I need more of: more empty time without distraction, more clear space without noise. More nothing. 

Nothing is a good start. But nothing doesn’t fill my mind with useful thoughts any more than parking the car at the gym makes me fit (wouldn’t that be nice). Like physical exercise, thinking is an act of rebellion against the natural slide of atrophy that effects my mind as much as it does my muscles. Like exercise, this requires effort. It requires determination, commitment, and motivation. I need to want to think. Which sounds easy enough, except for the fact that it isn’t.

The reason deep thinking requires time and space is because deep thinking is work. It takes energy to sift through thoughts and put them in some kind of order, spring cleaning the attic at the top of my body, forcing my way through cobwebs and unexpected memorabilia to stay on task. The good news is that quite often I really do enjoy the process, once I get into it. Still, there’s always a part of me that would rather be distracted than climb that ladder into the attic, knowing how untidy things can be up there. And painful. 

Sometimes the reason it’s hard to think is because the things I have to think about are hard. I don’t like them. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t want to admit, even to myself, that they exist. The tangled threads of life don’t always tie up neatly like Disney storylines. Sometimes the world seems more like a mystery with plenty of clues and suspects, but no Sherlock. How do all the pieces fit, and what secrets have I missed? Who is telling me the truth, and what are they leaving out? I’d rather not think about it. It’s easier to snack on mental junk food and forget everything for as long as possible. The problem is that forgetting reality doesn’t make it any less real, and hardly anything in this world improves by being ignored.

Here I am. I’m aware and conscious, and I’ve been given a mind that is capable of taking all of this in, sorting through it, and thinking about what it really means. A mind made for so much more than just the intake of sensory impulses and output of instinctual reactions, moment by moment. A mind designed for more than mere survival or the consumption of entertainment, but to discover and create, to know and relate to others and to its own Creator. A mind that can follow the threads of the past into the future, even into eternity. A mind that can learn, then live in the light of that learning, and keep learning still. Yes, it’s work. It can be hard, sometimes even painful work. But it’s worth it. It’s worth clearing time for, worth saving energy for, worth making priority space for in the regular rhythms of my life.

Nobody said it would be easy, but what a gift it is to be able to think!

13 thoughts on “Why Is It So Hard To Think?”

  1. Deep thinking is demanding and time consuming but the average human being is certainly capable of it. So why the rarity of such thought in today’s world?

    (1) Most of us are never encouraged to develop the love of valuable thought. We think of ourselves as incapable of it. We imagine a class situation with very few of us possessing the gift. So we leave the thinking to others.

    (2) Basic survival or the enjoyment of life’s accoutrements and addictions leave no real time for many of us to pursue the joy of thinking. And since most of us are not paid to think it leaves the self employed as having a definite advantage.

    (3) And there’s thinking and there’s thinking but the best is when the Holy Spirit is actively involved in the process. Susanna Wesley, surrounded by children in her kitchen, made time for prayer and thought by throwing her apron over her head to shut out a noisy world.

    “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. (Psalm 63)” might be a better time for us. Dawn with those last awakened moments abed is certainly a sublime time to invest in thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on A Ready Writer and commented:
    The following blog parallels my thoughts as I work through my present sermon series, “Teaching Us to Think.” Many of us never learn how to think properly because it is like physical exercise and requires effort and dedication. If we want to be like Christ, we need to overcome such resistance and put in the work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Most of the articles on “deep thought” lay blame for the lack thereof to our ubiquitous technological devices and the ephemeral distractions to be found on them. I’m sure this is a major factor, but I’m not entirely sure it deserves all the blame.

    I think it’s useful to look not only at entertainment, but also what else tech has enabled in our lives. Even if Netflix and video games and memes weren’t a thing, the lives of western Christians are still incredibly busy – either with an expansive workday (thanks to 24/7 connectivity via our cell phones) or with a packed schedule of “extra-curricular” events.

    The Church has responded to those busy schedules by offering more and more programs designed to hit target demographics and niche interests. I remember as a kid having Wednesday night and Sunday mornings as our official church events – and that was it. As I grew up, the church added “house church”, youth group / Bible studies, more Sunday school options, socials, and more opportunities to serve. At some point, we rarely had informal dinners with other church families simply because we were all too busy.

    All that to say: it’s great to say “put down your phones and reserve time”, but I also wonder what our churches can help us laypersons do that…primarily in being judicious about when and where the church requests time from us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You ever read the book Deep Work? It speaks volumes on focus. It is work but very rewarding.. per the book.


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