Train of Thought

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.

Philippians 4:8

“He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”

John Bunyan

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made the mistake of starting my day the wrong way. These days, many people wake up with a small digital screen, with their Facebook feed, or maybe their favourite newsfeed. Before escaping Facebook, I fell into that trap plenty of times. And when I did, my frame of mind, the attitude that launched me into the rest of the day, wasn’t always, say, reflective, prayerful, or focused on the most worthy or worthwhile things.

I confess it still happens to me even though I am no longer on Facebook.

One result is that my perspective gets skewed by whatever media I consume. So if I click on the CBC news app or watch news of any kind before I pray or read Scripture, or even, ahem, check on the progress of an Amazon order, then my train of thought ends up running along the wrong track.

When that happens, it’s not always easy to change tracks.

That’s why I like the John Bunyan quote above. I do wonder how people distracted themselves in Bunyan’s day, though. What was the 17th century equivalent of Twitter?

My wife almost always begins the day with the Daily Office and Scripture. She’s a great example in that way. I endeavour to do likewise.

But it’s about more than the start of the day. The train can go off the rails at other points during the day. And I would imagine that’s why the Book of Common Prayer also has a midday office. Recalibrating even partway through the day is sometimes necessary.

Of course, you don’t need the Daily Office to do any of this. It helps, but even stopping for a few minutes to pray the Lord’s Prayer or reciting The Apostles’ Creed or simply asking God to help you in that particular moment to be more sensitive to his presence are all ways of getting back on track.

Not only that, but we also, I think, need to be more intentional about the media we consume and the effect it has on our thinking. What are we allowing into our hearts and minds and souls? Does watching too much CNN, CBC, or Fox News, to cite a few examples, make us more peaceful and kind? Or do we find ourselves more angry and cynical and suspicious and anxious? Is it any wonder Paul says what he does in Philippians about dwelling on things that encourage us in our faith and remind us of our identity in Christ?

Our habits around technology and media do have an impact on us. It affects us. It can direct our train of thought in unhealthy ways. I think we all know this. But given our pretty obvious cultural addiction to our technology and media, it’s up to us to take steps to allow healthier–indeed, holier–matters direct our train of thought.

Here are four suggestions:

  1. Don’t start your morning with Facebook, Twitter, or social media of any kind. Instead, start with the Daily Office, a few minutes of quiet prayer, or whatever devotion you prefer. Ask God to help your thoughts and your attitude move in a more healthy direction, one shaped by his character, his word, and his will.
  2. Pay attention to your media consumption. How does what you consume make you feel? What attitude do you have afterwards? What mood does it put you in? Are you better for it or worse? Is being that much more “informed” worth the time you spend online?
  3. Take time at some point in the day to draw aside and ask: Where are my thoughts? How has my day been going? Have I gotten off track? Do I need to take a moment and ask God to recalibrate my heart?
  4. Pray at the end of the day. Come before the Lord with whatever has happened since getting up. Remember what Psalm 4:8 says: I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord, make me live in safety.

So I hope that provides some food for thought. In these days when we can easily spend most waking hours in front of a screen aborbing all kinds of messaging, I hope I can resist the temptation to do so and instead fill my heart and mind with, as Paul says, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable. I hope you can too.

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