Intellectual Depth – Healthy Rhythms pt. 3

(This is part 3 in a series on healthy rhythms that I began before Jeff’s surgery. I’m continuing it now. Part one, where I introduce the series is here and part two, where I write about the value of good conversation is here.)

Thinking deeply is a bit of a lost art. It is not that people don’t think about big topics or devote large amounts of time to personal study anymore. It is just that it is so easy in our culture to take in lots of information without digesting it. There is so much of it out there. Something is always next and competing for our attention. And our schedules are so full! There is little time to fully grasp all that comes across our radar.

In the course of a normal week, a Christ-follower might hear a sermon (maybe 2 or 3 if they listen to podcasts), maybe a small group lesson or discussion, maybe an outside book and reading the Bible for themselves at least, hopefully, a few times a week. That alone would be a lot to process. (And I’m not saying most Christ-followers should intake this much by the way. But some do.)

But then throw in the normal diet of news, texts, YouTube, surfing the internet, Facebook, email and hours of tv and entertainment. Then there is the daily visual and audio onslaught of living in our world. There is always a screen in front of us. Traffic to navigate. An advertisement tempting us. Background noise filling the void. And I haven’t even mentioned the more important time-consuming practices of building and maintaining family and friend relationships that takes time every day. What about the normal chores like laundry, dishes, helping kids with homework, shopping or maintaining things that occupies hours of our lives every day?

All of it competes for our attention and intellectual bandwidth.

We are busy people, taking in a lot of information. It is so much in fact that a lot of it marches in the front door of our minds and walks right on out the back. We don’t have room for it all to stay a while. We remain acquaintances with people we just say hello to and we become friends with those we spend time. It is true of people and it is true of ideas.

Therefore, it can be a healthy thing to set aside time, to narrow the scope of our intake and to challenge ourselves intellectually with one topic, rather than many. To slow down and focus, to think deeply about one topic. To intentionally choose what gets our intellectual attention rather than letting the world, culture, our smartphones or twitter choose for us. To intentionally read a challenging book, not rushing past it, but digging deep into its contents until we feel like we own it. To explore something off the beaten path of the everyday and mundane. To do some research, reading and pondering, instead of wasting our thought time by not really thinking. 

I’m not sure the topic itself is what is important, but the discipline, the rhythm of kicking my brain into gear and choosing what I think about, is. And periodically, I need to exercise the practice of not moving forward to whatever is “next” intellectually, until I feel I’ve fully digested whatever is “now”. 

This can look different depending on the person, their learning style, the season of life, the interest and/or the reason for consciously deciding to take one’s intellect deeper rather than wider for a while. For some, it may look deciding to turn off the tv for a weekend and using that time to read. For others, it may look like figuring out a hole in your education or the practice of your faith and deciding that you want to shore that up with some study 0r seeking out a conversation with someone who knows more about it than you. Maybe it is a trip to a museum or historic site.  It could even be reading your facebook or twitter feed more slowly and actually clicking on a link or two that a friend recommended – and then dialoguing a bit with them on why the topic is important, challenging or thought-provoking. Or maybe it just involves paying attention to when you might need to park and get of the intellectual car instead of just driving on by.

For me, sometimes my study time feels like the equivalent of eating a bag of potato chips while watching tv. I ate it, but don’t always remember doing it, perhaps feel a bit queasy and I’m not entirely sure I would do it again if I were paying closer attention. I don’t like it when I do this, either with chips or reading…so I am learning to practice a rhythm of greater intellectual challenge.