When I press the mute button on my harried life, and seek to be silent before God, chattering monkeys descend on me. It seems to be their signal to leap into my brain to distract me.
“How difficult this is!” writes Henri Nouwen. “When we sit down for half an hour – without talking to someone, listening to music, watching television, or reading a book – and try to become very still, we often find ourselves so overwhelmed by our noisy inner voices that we can hardly wait to get busy and distracted again. Our inner life often looks like a banana tree full of jumping monkeys!”
How then can we deal with such tumult that tries to prevent our concentration on God’s Presence? These thought-monkeys seek to divide and conquer the best of our intentions. Nouwen continues, “But when we decide not to run away and to stay focused, these monkeys may gradually go away because of lack of attention, and the soft gentle Voice the Beloved calling us may gradually make itself heard.”
It’s unrealistic to think we can be totally devoid of thoughts. We simply need to decide that they don’t matter. It is best if we ignore them, let them chatter away, accept them without anxiety, and not even try to suppress them. If we don’t let them distract us from our purpose to meet with God, like spoiled children vying for attention, most of them will sooner or later just go away. Firmly and quietly, when we persist and focus on God’s Presence, our spiritual concentration will be sustained. It will take practice and perseverance.
Is it worth the effort? Nouwen declares, “We simply need quiet time in the presence of God. Although we want to make all our time, time for God, we will never succeed if we do not reserve a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, or whatever period of time for God and him alone. This asks for much discipline and risk-taking because we always seem to have something more urgent to do and just “sitting there” and “doing nothing” often disturbs us more than it helps. But there is no way around this. Being useless and silent in the Presence of our God belongs to the core of all prayer.”
A high goal but a worthy, attainable desire. We tend to think that prayer is exclusively talking to God. Perhaps my own noisy chatter is as loud in God’s ears as the monkey chatter is distracting to me. My continual and sometimes trivial babbling petitions may actually hinder my sweet communion with the Divine. It is urgent that I be quiet so I can listen to His higher desires for me instead.
I understand that a shepherd never shouts at his sheep. He speaks with a quiet, gentle tone to guide them. The sheep have to quiet their noisy bleating so they will not miss his instructions when he wants to lead them to green pastures and beside quiet waters. They recognize their own shepherd’s voice among all the other shepherds guiding their flocks.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)