We live in a culture that seeks to keep us in a constant state of excitement. When things stay the same, we lose interest in them. We are not always willing to hang with things for the long haul. Our short attention spans numb us to the sometimes long, slow, seemingly unchanging circumstances of life.
We grow impatient with slow recovery from illness or surgery. We want those who have experienced loss to “get over it” and get on with life. We grow disinterested when asked to pray for people and we see no change in their circumstances.
We bore easily. Familiar prayers are often said without conscious awareness of the words spoken. Do we really want just our daily bread? Most of us are not content with simply enough for today—we want the whole loaf. We want excess, more than what we need. Yet we pray for just enough every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
We see catastrophic events in the media and we are riveted by their unfolding—for a short period of time. Then we lose interest and shift our attention to something newer and fresher and more sensational. When’s the last time you gave a thought to those affected by Hurricane Katrina? And yet, how many people are continuing to struggle with the changes wrought by that storm almost ten years later?
Even names on a prayer list lose our attention. It is easy for us to forget that behind every name, there is a person, a family, a life, an oftentimes long journey of uncertainty and woundedness. Compassionate care for others requires a commitment to attentiveness.
The desert fathers and mothers recognized the danger of acedia, which is a restless boredom. Evagrius Ponticus describes acedia as making “the day seem fifty hours long.” One of the ways to combat acedia is to persistently stick with something. Abba Moses said this, “sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” In other words to fight the temptation for constant variety, be still and stay in one place.
Our hunger for variety and stimulation leads us to a rootless existence. We cannot grow deeper in our relationship with God if we have yielded to the temptation of acedia. What penetrates our hearts is not a constantly changing kaleidoscope of stimulation but the slow, steady, persistent, faithful practice of stillness. This penetrates our hearts the way persistent drops of water will create indentions on stone. When one practices stillness over a period of time the familiar becomes cherished, not despised. Patience replaces boredom and there is room for compassion to grow and flourish.