The weekly journal Nature recently reported, “Given the choice, many people would rather give themselves mild electric shocks than sit idly in a room for 15 minutes, according to a study published . . . in Science.”
In an experiment led by social psychologist Timothy Wilson at the University of Virginia, 409 undergrads were asked to sit alone without mobile devices, books, or any other kind of entertainment for 15 minutes. That’s it. 15 minutes.
Nearly half found this unpleasant. Allowed to repeat the experiment in the comfort of their own homes, “nearly one-third of the study subjects later admitted to cheating.”
And now comes the bizarre part: “In the next experiment, participants were given a small electric shock—akin to a jolt of static electricity—that was so unpleasant that three-quarters of them said they would be willing to pay not to experience the shock again.”
But when participants sat in the room “alone with their thoughts, 67% of male participants and 25% of female subjects were so eager to find something to do that they shocked themselves voluntarily.”
Let me reiterate that. A significant percentage of women and majority of men got so bored sitting quietly for 15 minutes that they chose to hurt themselves rather than just sit there.
The article adds, “That difficulty is not limited to college students. The results still held when researchers repeated the experiments with a broader age group sampled from a church and a farmer’s market.”
What are we to make of this strange story? Well, in the age of social media and multitasking, even our relaxation has to be busy. I mean, many of us seem hardly aware that we’ve fallen into bad habits. We remind each other to log off Facebook, quit playing electronic games, and try looking up from the iPhone once in a while. (But sometimes we even use our Facebook statuses to remind each other to log off Facebook.)
But heaven forbid we spend time alone at all with our own thoughts, without someone else present at least on the other side of a screen. A psychologist at Columbia University, Malia Mason, observes, “We lack a comfort in just being alone with our thoughts. . . .We’re constantly looking to the external world for some sort of entertainment.”
Folks, what does it even mean these days to “be still and know that he is God”? If we’re so busy multitasking, how can we concentrate or be mindful of the presence of God, of the blessings He bestows on us, and for that matter, of the needs of others that God places in our path?
Truth be told, we’re in a pitiful state, and we have to change.
Christians have a rich spiritual heritage that places great value on solitude, quiet prayer, and contemplation. The Lord calls us to Sabbath rest, and He promises in the book of Isaiah, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
As Chuck Colson’s theological advisor, T. M. Moore wrote recently at our website, “Contemplation is so rewarding because it makes the reality of our faith more vivid and leads us to greater hope and desire for the Lord. We should take time throughout the day for contemplation, if only for a few moments here and there.”
T. M. continues, Medieval teacher “Hugh of St. Victor says that ‘what prayer asks, contemplation finds.’ We ask the Lord to change us, grow us, guide us into specific next steps, and then He does. And in contemplation we marvel at the wonder, the mystery, the glory, and the promise of it all, as we look ahead to the new heavens and new earth where righteousness—full and complete—will dwell forever.
So starting today, find some sacred, quiet space, for just a few minutes each day. Practice being quiet and still, a little at a time. It will take practice to replace old habits of noise with new habits of stillness.
But contemplate the goodness of God, and you may be shocked—in a good way—when you encounter Him anew.
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint, a radio commentary that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million.
Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries