Decisions come very easy to me, but not necessarily good ones. I am very comfortable making judgments. I find, however, that the consequence of a quick decision is often a long, hard slog toward making things right.
My wife Janice and I were riding bikes in Acadia National Park when we came to a junction of two trails. I had a map in my pack, and I could have easily checked our position and made an informed choice. But the route to the left looked correct in my mind, and it was downhill, so that’s the way we went—downhill.
After a mile of easy coasting in the wrong direction, I admitted my mistake. I had to tell my trusting wife who followed to turn around and take back all the elevation we just descended. Perhaps it goes without saying the ride to the top was difficult, and also very quiet.
I read a book by a neuroscientist who observed through a number of experiments and diagnostic tests something I’ve known since childhood—the more things you have on your mind, the poorer your decisions.
On this vacation, I had a lot on my mind.
My poor decisions actually started weeks before. I found a place to stay online that promised a Swiss-style chalet, quiet surroundings and a private beach. I researched no further. I booked it. It was now one less thing I had to think about.
When my wife (again, so trusting) and I arrived we found a chalet, but our room was in the basement. It was dreary, dated, dirty, and the beach was a quarter-mile away. It turned out to be the most expensive vacation rental ever. As we left to find a better place, the landlord’s “no-refunds” still hanging in the air, I calculated we paid about $400 a minute.
The influence of a crowded mind was tested by some researchers who devised a very simple experiment. They told one group of people to remember three numbers, and then turned them loose on a large buffet of food. The table included healthy food choices like veggies and fruits, and also included cakes, cookies and lots of fatty-fried stuff.
The group with three numbers in their heads socialized at the buffet while they snacked, mostly on the healthier foods.
Then a second group was asked to remember seven numbers and turned loose at the same buffet. They socialized less, and ate mostly sugar and fat. The pattern was repeated in test after test.
The researchers’ conclusion was humans are more likely to make good decisions if they have fewer thoughts in their heads. That rings true to me.
I teach a Bible study class, and sometimes I choose to teach topics I feel I need to learn. Recently I studied and prepared a couple of lessons on the topic of simplicity. I can’t speak for others in the class, but I did learn something.
What did I learn? I learned you can’t study your way to simplicity. Simplicity in thought and action comes from focusing on less, not more. Whether it be work, prayer, conversation, art, sport, reading, writing or relationships, we do better when we narrow our focus.
One day Jesus was visiting in the home of Mary and Martha. While Mary sat and talked with Jesus, Martha was preparing dinner. After a while Martha got peeved about Mary’s apparent laziness and indifference. Jesus responded to Martha’s complaint saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary . . . .”
That one thing is love—to love God and to love others. All the prioritizations of life flow from this one priority.
Ultimately the crowded mind is a selfish mind. It is the mind that withdraws into self and broods quiet for hours. It is the mind that snaps impatiently at someone’s intrusion. It is the mind that makes life just a little harder for everyone else, but excuses itself with, “I’m sorry, but I have a lot on my mind.”
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not puffed up and not insistent on its own way. The mind prioritized by genuine love is ordered, sensitive to what is going on around it, and focused on the better outcome
Peeling away the unnecessary and the lesser things is not sloth. In fact, when it does not come naturally, it requires serious work. Like a sculptor cutting away everything he does not see, it is hard to carve away all the extraneous things that get in the way of the essential. And you have to keep doing it moment after moment, thought after thought.
I do not want to be worried and bothered by so many things. I want to choose better. Lord, teach me to love.