Thursday, November 03, 2011

Contentment and the Gift of Solitude

(I'm working on my message for Sunday, "Contentment," and this is an excerpt from my book Say Yes to No that ties together contentment, technology, and solitude.)

The reason we're so often discontent and distracted is not just the lure of technology’s buzz; it’s the impossibility of concentration when we’re connected to the Internet 24/7 or glued to the Tube. As the contemporary rock band, Switchfoot cries out:
I'm a nervous wreck but I'll bet
that that TV set
tells us what we want to hear. 
We need to disconnect from our techie toys and spend time alone. The psalmist writes with obvious contentment, “I have calmed and quieted my soul.” But who does this? Henri Nouwen, a natural extrovert, learned the value of solitude. And yet time alone is not all easy. He employed a striking image to describe this difficulty: “As soon as I decide to stay in solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree.” In fact, he formulated this frustration into a moving prayer:
Why, O Lord, is it so hard for me to keep my heart directed toward you? Do I keep wondering, in the center of my being, whether you will give me all I need if I just keep my eyes on you?
Please accept my distractions, my fatigue, my irritations, and my faithless wanderings.  You know me more deeply and fully than I know myself.  You love me with a greater love than I can love myself.  You even offer me more than I desire.  Look at me, see me in all my misery and inner confusion, and let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil.
So what does this tell us about the power of no? Technology, which promised free time and peace, has torn us apart, and we have lost integration. We have forgotten to listen to the rhythm of our bodies and souls. We have taken on the incessant roar of the machines that surround us. Instead of living with healthy rhythms, we only have what the popular, Grammy-winning pop duo, Steely Dan, described with utter succinctness, “I hear my insides, the mechanized hum of another world.”

When we disconnect in order to seek solitude, we are on the way to finding contentment.