‘Lack of Brains Hinders Research’ and other confusing headlines: A countercultural but vital resolution for the new year

2020

We’ve all seen confusing newspaper headlines. Some of my favorites are: 

  • “Kids Make Nutritious Snacks”
  • “Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant”
  • “Complaints About NBA Referees Growing Ugly”
  • “2 Sisters Reunited after 18 Years at Checkout Counter”
  • “Hospitals Are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors”
  • “Lack of Brains Hinders Research.”

Now we’ve stepped into a day that is confusing as well. Today is the first day of the new decade. 

Or is it? 

Is this the beginning or the end of the decade? 

Most of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, which started with the year 1. As a result, decades should logically end with years that end with a 0. In other words, the next new decade would begin on January 1, 2021. Or so the US Naval Observatory and the Farmers’ Almanac insist. 

Making things more complicated: In 731 AD, a monk known as the Venerable Bede established that the years before Christ’s birth were to be known as “BC.” However, he didn’t include a year zero in his calculations. As a result, the year before 1 AD was 1 BC. Thus, the first decade was completed with the year 10 AD. 

Here’s the problem: People commonly think of decades as aligning with the years that denote them. It would be strange for the “Eighties” to include 1990. And psychologists point to a phenomenon called “round number bias” by which we prefer to start new decades on an even-numbered year. 

The times are so confusing we’re even confused about the times. But there’s a simple resolution we can keep beginning today that will make a transforming difference in our lives across the year to come. 

A surprising survey 

Writing for the New York Times, Tim Herrera praises the value of solitude. He notes that it helps regulate our emotions, conveying a calming effect that prepares us to better engage with other people. Solitude also replenishes us in vital ways: it helps us discover new ideas and interests, improves empathy, and boosts productivity. 

Somehow, we know this. 

An online survey asked eighteen thousand people in 134 countries if they would like more rest. Unsurprisingly, 68.4 percent said yes. However, when asked which activities were most restful for them, their top responses (in order) were surprising: 

  • “reading”
  • “being in the natural environment”
  • “spending time alone”
  • “listening to music” 

The first activity that clearly involved other people was “seeing friends and family,” which came in twelfth on the list. 

In other words, to find the rest we need, we need time away from other people. 

How to hear the “low whisper” of God 

Those who read the Bible are not surprised. Jesus taught us, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). Our Lord followed his own advice after a hectic day of ministry in Capernaum (Mark 1:21–34) when “before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray” (v. 35 NLT). 

He once “spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12 NASB). In fact, he “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NIV). 

Jacob was transformed by his solitary encounter with God (Genesis 32:22–32). Moses met God when he was alone in the desert (Exodus 3:1–2). Elijah heard the “low whisper” of God when he was alone in a cave (1 Kings 19:12). 

Peter received a vision declaring, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15 NIV) when he was alone. His response led to the conversion of Cornelius and the inclusion of Gentiles in the gospel. And John was alone “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” when he met the risen Christ on Patmos (Revelation 1:10ff). 

Practical ways to grow through solitude 

How can we experience transforming solitude with God this year? 

In his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests these steps. 

One: Take advantage of the “little solitudes” we experience each day. 

From early morning moments before the family awakens to slow traffic on the way to work and moments of isolation through the day, we can reframe being alone as practicing solitude. 

Two: Develop a specific place and time for silence and solitude. 

Identify a chair, a room, or a place in nature where you can be alone regularly. Make an appointment to meet God there. Consider this time to be just as scheduled and inviolate as if you were meeting with the president or the governor because you will be in the throne room of the King of kings. 

Three: Try to live an entire day without words. 

Note your feelings of frustration and helplessness and use them to deepen your commitment to times of silence with the Lord. 

Four: Four times a year, withdraw for three or four hours to reorient your life goals. 

See these times as vital investments in your soul and your future. 

I would add this: When you make time for solitude, ask the Lord how he wants you to spend these moments with him. He might lead you to a biblical passage or something in nature to reflect upon. He might lead you to journal your thoughts as you open your mind to him. Or he might simply lead you to rest in his presence, to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). 

In Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney states: “Without exception, the men and women I have known who make the most rapid, consistent, and evident growth in Christlikeness have been those who develop a daily time of being alone with God.” 

How much will you grow in Christlikeness this year?