The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA says that the average person thinks 70,000 thoughts per day. If that’s true, then I’m pretty sure I’m above average.

The report doesn’t define what constitutes a “thought” nor does it specify how many hours that average person is awake to be thinking all those thoughts. But let’s just say that dream-thoughts don’t count, that the person is awake 16 hours per day, and that whatever blips through his or her mind constitutes a “thought.” In that case, it works out to 4,375 thoughts per hour, or 73 thoughts per minute.   

Like I said, I think I’m above average. But don’t envy me. You really wouldn’t want to live inside my head.  The thoughts that race around in there are usually random and uninspiring thoughts. They’re not necessarily bad thoughts, just not all that helpful.  Things like, “I wonder how painting my house pink would affect its resale value?” or “What was my phone number when I lived in Indiana 15 years ago?”

So, while all those thoughts occasionally result in a rare and wonderful idea, often they are just distracting. Especially when I try to pray.

I was frustrated by this fact the other day. I really wanted be still and focused so I could pray. It was early in the morning, but already I was well on my way toward making my 70,000 thoughts per day quota.

But then I had an unusual thought. It wasn’t one of those “I wonder what the nutritional value of celery is?” kind of thoughts.  It was one I’d never thought of before. The type that makes me think,” Hmmm, that’s smarter than what I would ordinarily think. I wonder if that’s a God-thought?” The thought was simply this: “Ten.”

I knew right away what it meant. My Bible was open to Exodus where Moses is receiving instructions for worship. I had been thinking (among many other things) about the kind of worship God likes to receive. So when I heard “Ten,” I was immediately inspired to find ten ways things to worship Him about.

My list went something like this:

  1. You’re beautiful.
  2. You’re incredibly creative.
  3. You are kind.
  4. You are holy.
  5. You care about the oppressed.
  6. You are faithful.
  7. You are sympathetic with my weakness.
  8. You are always with me.
  9. You are majestic.
  10. You are full of compassion.

I felt peace come over me as I quietly listed those ten things I love about God. And then a sense of surprise and satisfaction came. I realized that while I was focusing on making that list of things I wanted to worship God for, I was completely undistracted. I had zero other thoughts going through my head—just God, and all I love about Him. I was amazed.

Since then I’ve prayed different “Tens.” I have prayed for ten adult children, ten countries I have special interest in and concern for, ten blessings for a friend, ten things I was thankful for in a specific moment. And each time I prayed that way, I had the pleasure of being completely focused and peaceful, unmolested by distractions.

I imagine that I am not the only person who struggles with being distracted in prayer. So I wonder if any of my readers out there have ideas about how to deal with what Henri Nouwen described as the thoughts that “jump about … like monkeys in a banana tree”? Won’t you share your tips with us? Or if you decide to try my “Ten” idea, will you tell the rest of us how it went for you?


5 thoughts on “Ten

  1. Anete says:

    Amazingly, it worked for me as well. I wasn`t distracted when concentrating on thinking of ten things to praise God for.
    Thanks for the idea!

  2. LAH says:

    I find it very helpful to journal my prayers. As I slow down to form each letter of each word, I have to stay focused. And if my mind wanders, I can reread what I just wrote to get back on track. It’s also fun to read through previous years’ prayers and realize how God has answered.

  3. Ten. Another “one word” gem (like your previous post on one-word prayers). Thanks for the help.

    I do remember the phone number I grew up with (and many other useless facts). On celery: a college friend told me celery has fewer calories than the body uses to digest it. So (he said) if you’re ever trapped in a box of celery, don’t try to eat your way out. I replied, “Thanks for the tip.”

  4. Jill Case Brown says:

    I like this, Cynthia.

    Date: Thu, 8 Aug 2013 01:38:15 +0000 To: jillcbrown54@hotmail.com

  5. Boy, do I ever have thoughts that “jump about…like monkeys in a banana tree”!! I love that phrase. And it is especially true on days when I need to hook up with God in prayer. I try to always start with praise. If that isn’t enough (Satan can be very stubborn and finds “exposed spot on the underbelly” to shoot an arrow and sideline my thought. I go on to verbally denouncing any right Satan thinks he has to me, I’m God’s girl . Or I beg Jesus to kick him away because I can’t do it alone. Or a combination. Never thought of counting how many praises I pray.

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