Nearly every year since I began blogging regularly in 2006, I have chosen not to post new articles in the month of July. For some of those summers, I stayed active on social media and posted links to other blogs or some of my older articles that remained relevant. For a couple years, I enlisted guest contributors and enjoyed introducing my regular readers to new voices. Most years, however, I have remained offline (at least publicly) during the month of July, using the time to read, reflect, and write without the pressure of weekly deadlines.
This year, as with many before, I sense the need to continue this practice of taking a break from online writing and posting. For this reason, I will be stepping away for a few weeks, engaging in a “retreat” that I hope will lead to future “advance” in my thinking and writing.
Avoiding “The Shallows”
One of the consistent refrains I hear from my readers is frustration and confusion over the endless sources of information that come at us from every direction. As we enter the 2020’s and face the challenges of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and political turmoil, how do we sift through the news? How do we know what is true and what is false? How can we see through media spin and political posturing? How do we know what videos or news stories that fill our Facebook feeds are truly newsworthy or merely serve to confirm our prejudices and predetermined narratives? How do we engage in legitimate protest without succumbing to the anarchy of the mob or a merely performative righteousness?
All of us online must wrestle with these questions. I don’t know the answers, but I’m convinced the solution will not come through additional viewing of cable news, downloading of podcasts, or scrolling through social media timelines.
Several years ago, Nicholas Carr in The Shallows made a convincing argument that online discourse was affecting our mental capabilities in ways that were detrimental to reasonable and thoughtful argumentation. Since then, we’ve seen a number of other works appear with proposals, including Cal Newport’s Deep Work, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, and Justin Whitmel Early’s The Common Rule. Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life is a new book that pushes back against cultural forces that would conspire against a commitment to think things through. I appreciate these and other books for the way they inspire us to take stock of our habits and then adopt a countercultural way of life that would keep us from drowning face-down in shallow pools of superficiality.
In an article I wrote last year based on Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative, I acknowledged that I struggle in turning off the input valve and giving myself time to process what I’ve been reading, or the conversations I’ve been having, or the podcasts I’ve been listening to (at 2x speed!). Henry recommends we pay attention to our need for “negative space.”
The time between your active moments is when ideas are formed, insights are gained, mental connections are forged. If your life is a constant blur of activity, focus, and obligation, you are likely to miss critical breakthroughs because you won’t have the benefit of pacing and negative space. What’s not there will impact your life as much or more than what is.
I need to get better at building times of silence into my regular rhythms. Scrolling through Twitter or downloading more and more podcasts will likely weaken, not strengthen, the creative process. Without “negative space,” I may sacrifice my best work for busywork.
I should learn from the examples of some of my favorite writers, such as G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, who were known for taking long walks or spending hours in the garden in solitude. The brilliant analogies in Mere Christianity likely came to Lewis, not from listening to the radio all day, but as he strolled about the paths around the Kilns.
Letting Thoughts Marinate
So, during the month of July, I am looking forward to resetting some of my reading, listening, viewing, and writing habits. I won’t stop writing, of course, because to stop writing, for me, would be to stop thinking. But I’m looking forward to holding longer onto whatever writing I do, letting those thoughts marinate for a while—giving them more time to “cook” before bringing them out in public.
When I begin to post again, in August, I will be gearing up for the release of my next book, which is set for October. After more than a year of labor on this title, I’m excited to share more about it with you—the vision for it, how it came about, the writing experience, and what I hope it will accomplish in the lives of readers.
To those of you who read and share my articles, for those of you who recommend my books and writing to others, and for those of you who send me words of encouragement—thank you. Please pray for me—for my heart, my mind, my soul. Pray for preservation and protection from the evil one. Pray that we will all receive an extra measure of discernment during these challenging times, to be able to discern truth from falsehood, statesmanship from showmanship, good diagnoses from bad prescriptions, reform from revolution—all as a way of being God’s kingdom people, living on earth as citizens of heaven.
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