“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
This quote comes from the French Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal. It’s found in his timeless work Pensees, a collection of brilliant, but scattered, thoughts that came to him over the course of his life that were intended to eventually become a comprehensive guidebook on how to defend the Catholic faith. He never finished it, but, in this work, Blaise explains that if humanity could simply be satisfied and happy with being alone, then the vast majority of arguments and battles throughout history would never have occurred. He figures that the reason humans can’t be happy in this way comes down to a few different things, but one that he emphasizes is the simple fact that being alone with your thoughts is uncomfortable.
Blaise was on to something here. Sitting alone with your thoughts almost never seems like a good time. It can make you think about failed relationships, mistakes you’ve made, problems that you are struggling with, and difficult realities about human existence – like the reality that one day your life will come to an end. Who would want to do that? It sounds like an easy way to ruin a perfectly good day.
Plus, there are so many ways to run away from this in today’s world. You can keep your phone buzzing with new texts, re-watch a favorite television series, spend hours playing video games, keep yourself constantly surrounded with family, friends, or teammates, or always have a steady stream of music or podcasts pumping through your speakers. (I’m especially guilty of that last one). There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things in moderation. In fact, it wouldn’t be natural to only think about the difficult parts of life. Distractions and enjoyable hobbies can be a great thing.
While focusing on the positive things in life is a healthy approach, remember Blaise Pascal’s words again. You don’t want to find yourself so distracted and so focused on remaining in this mentality that you end up with the total inability to sit quietly in a room and be alone with your thoughts. It might not be easy to deal with at times, but God bestowed you with a wide range of emotions. Despite what a good chunk of popular culture today might suggest, it simply isn’t human to avoid the feelings that aren’t so great all the time. Sometimes you just need to find a quiet place to confront the things that you keep in the deepest, darkest parts of your brain and really work through them – even if that means ruining your idea of a good day.
Jesus cried in difficult times (Hebrew 5:7), mourned the death of friends (John 11:35), and knew that sometimes he just needed to get away from other people to pray and recuperate alone – even if that meant going out into a desert or the top of a mountain to do it (Luke 6:12). If Jesus did it, we can be confident that this is an essential part of being a human being. We are made to be quiet sometimes. We are made to experience uncomfortable thoughts sometimes. Avoiding these things will do nothing but keeps you from really getting to know yourself and will keep you from growing as a person.
Plus, a lack of silence will keep you from hearing the quiet things that God whispers to us throughout our lives. If we are always surrounded by noise or distracting ourselves with excitement, how can we really take time to pray? You can’t. Saints throughout the centuries have emphasized silence over and over again. Mother Theresa once said, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Luckily, you don’t need to go into a desert or find a mountain to find silence for yourself. Closing your bedroom door, finding a quiet park, or stepping into a nearby church will often do just fine. Personally, I like to get in my car and take a small drive. I turn off the radio, silence my phone, and just think for a while. Other times, I find it helpful to talk to myself and with God out loud in a place where no one else can hear me or even write things that I’m thinking down on paper. It helps me think through things more clearly, be more honest with myself, and have some really focused time in prayer. Without silence, it’s not possible to achieve this level of focus.
As you work through emotions and situations that you’ve been distracting yourself from, be prepared to find yourself becoming angry or to find your eyes watering up with tears. This is completely normal. You are finally experiencing all the emotions that you’ve been hiding from. I promise that you’ll feel much better afterward. After all, emotions are part of God’s design for humanity. They can be beautiful gifts that help us enjoy life, deal with its sorrows, or grow in our relationship with God.
If what I’m saying doesn’t connect with you, check out a song called “Alone in a Room” by an angry rock band called Asking Alexandria that deals with this topic. Maybe their take will be a bit more convincing. Some of the lyrics read:
“Sometimes I’ll fall down, sometimes I’ll lose hope, but those days will be few if I keep my feet on the ground. I might be lonely, but I ain’t alone here so I keep pushing the limits of what makes me. All I needed was the last thing I wanted: to sit alone in a room and say it all out loud. Every moment, every second, every trespass, every awful thing, every broken dream.”
You may be surprised at the amount of truth that exists in an aggressive rock song, but I think this one describes exactly the point I’m trying to make. It sounds like it took a long time, but the singer eventually came to understand that sometimes you need to be completely alone with your thoughts so that you can deal with your sorrows head on and think through your next decisions carefully and with a level head. On top of that, he has realized that doing this will help him experience fewer bad days in the long run. That said, after you’re done rocking out, promise me that you’ll take some time to sit alone with your thoughts and most honest prayers.