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:
- You’re beautiful.
- You’re incredibly creative.
- You are kind.
- You are holy.
- You care about the oppressed.
- You are faithful.
- You are sympathetic with my weakness.
- You are always with me.
- You are majestic.
- 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?