As we engage in this month of Elul, preparing ourselves, I found this past Shabbat encouragement very helpful.
What’s in your head? Do you ever find the time to block out distractions and listen to your thoughts? For most of us our thoughts are so many and often racing that we can feel very anxious when we listen to all that’s buzzing up there. Quieting our minds is an amazing challenge, one that often we can’t do unless it’s first thing in the morning or last thing at night before we fall asleep. And even if those times may seem quiet externally they are sometimes the busiest moments in our heads since we have time to think about all there is to do and all we haven’t done – getting the kids off to school on time, unpaid bills, phone messages, texts, Facebook, news, work, even friends and fun which still keep us from ourselves.
My single friends look at the couples and feel lonely. My married friends wish they had more alone time. My retired friends want jobs to stay engaged. My working friends want more vacations. My parent friends are running ragged with child needs. My couples without children wish they had kids.
Being cognizant of these perceptions of others is not just a reminder to be grateful for our lives. Nor to stop coveting our neighbors’. Often our mental analysis of others and ourselves only serves to make our perceived lives seem unsatisfying and seemingly chaotic. More importantly by becoming aware that we create unnecessary drama and dissatisfaction through our thoughts rather than by actual facts, we become mindful of the need to become comfortable with our inner self. As we become more at peace with our lives, and our self, we become more able to hear Him.
Each of us have giant to-do lists. And each day we make progress, or not, on them, as they continually grow anyway. Our to-dos actually never end. The challenge is to deliberately break from the cycle and put at the top of that list to turn off the outside demands and seek inner quiet. A very effective way to make this happen is to read from Scripture. My favorite is the good old “Bible dip”, just see what passage you open up to and be wowed how relevant it is to your day at that moment. Or you can be more deliberate and read the parsha passages for the week. Prayer is incredibly helpful, randomly through the day or systematically as do more observant Jews who pray Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv – morning, afternoon, and evening prayers. These appointments with HaShem prioritize Him through planned breaks from the secular.
So how does one find the time to do this? That challenge alone can create a whole new level of stress and racing thoughts. Think small. Don’t even try it when you’re in demand (driving, responding to a child, on a project with no break). But the process can be as simple as closing your eyes and breathing deeply while thanking HaShem for this very moment of life. Just doing that disconnects you from the secular distractions and perceptions we attach to them. Play some beautiful Messianic music in the background, while driving or while making a meal. Involve in Scripture reading and prayer those in your life who may be part of the perceptual dramas as ways to center the relationship. Once there is more peace together, there can be progress toward a more quiet self. For families with children, as you probably already know, there is no better bedtime stories to read than those about Moses and Messiah. No matter what the day has brought, ending it in that space calms both the parent and the child as we disconnect from all that pulls us from Him and focus on His glory.
When left to our own inner world of thoughts we can often feel discouraged, overwhelmed, hopeless, anxious. Not that we are negative by nature but we may misinterpret and sometimes overly dramatize or distort life’s happenings through our individual filters. When we still those thoughts by disengaging from such negative or stressful perceptions we are able to fill our spirit first with quiet, then with calm, as HaShem ministers to us through the Ruach. We feel the presence of our Messiah taking onto himself our burdens. It actually is palpable.
I urge you to give it a try. For starters, wake in the morning with a prayer of thankfulness, even if just for a few moments. Try to find little opportunities, while car pooling the kids or vacuuming, or commuting to or from work, while doing yard work, when mourning a lost relationship, to clear your head and make room for Him. Especially before bed try a Scripture reading or nighttime prayer to drift you off to His place through the night. I think you can sense Him there with you right now as you’ve taken the time to disengage from whatever you were doing and to focus on Him just by reading this Shabbat encouragement. That’s all it takes. . .