One thing I have come to appreciate about Cal Newport’s Deep Work is the focus on weaning yourself from stimulus. I say appreciate, not experience. I still struggle with habits that have been ingrained over the past 10 years.
But one area where I am coming to see the most benefit — and one where this ability to focus is most critical — is in communion with God. How can I expect to be changed by the word if I cannot read for more than a few minutes without doing something else? Or if I cannot pray with a sense of waiting? How long does it take for one to feel the presence of the Spirit? To hear the still, small voice of the Almighty creator of all things?
I dare say it takes more than 10 distracted minutes a day.
And this is more important to my life than career success.
Over the past 18 months since I read Deep Work, I’ve had varying degrees of success with focus in my work day. Each month, each week, and each day bring different projects, different areas of responsibility that require our attention. It is easier to achieve focus with some, less so with others.
But over and over, I come back to the fact that while Newport’s concept of increasing our ability to focus is crucial to a successful career, it’s even more crucial to a successful Christian life. One that is lived attuned to the Spirit. One that is carefully watching to see where God is working, then ready and willing to join him in it.
There Is Depth in Freedom
One of my goals for this year was “deeper times of devotion”. Now, that is a goal that does not meet the criteria of good goals. It’s general, not specific. Therefore, it’s not measurable. However, I purposefully left it somewhat ambiguous, for I do not want to simply adhere to a rule without seeking the true purpose (something I am prone to do).
And so I have a very general guideline. I leave the entire hour of 5–6am open for devotions. My reading plan only requires 10–15 mins each day, so I have a good amount of time to meditate, pray, or just sit in stillness. By not setting a list of rules for this time, I give myself the freedom to see where I’m led.
- I allow myself to sleep in some days … if I get up at 5:20am, I still have a good amount of time left
- I make my coffee as a part of this time
- I have been reading one Psalm every day, on top of my regular Bible reading — this is a slower read, more meditation than “study”
- I have started to practice praying the Psalm when it really resonates (not all do)
- I have spent more time contemplatively praying the Lord’s prayer
- I pray more often, for some regular items or persons
If there are days when something else comes up, like a deadline or this newsletter or I feel like a walk or run are a better choice, I allow myself to do that thing. Some weekends, I stay up later and skip devotions the next morning.
I can do that because I’ve set this goal for the year and that gets reviewed each and every week.
Depth of any sort takes time. For the Christian, this is especially true. For we not only have to fight off our internal struggles of boredom, distraction, and desires. But we also have external forces at work trying to impede intimacy with God at all costs.
So as I focus on improving my skills to achieve depth in my work, I’m beginning to realize how vital this is for all areas of my life. Especially that which is most important to me.