The Practice of Not Thinking

by | Jan 30, 2015 | Sabbath


I made a confession to the Sabbath Society in our bi-weekly email last week and thought it might be time I come clean with you too.

I haven’t learned how to rest my mind yet.

Over the past two years, leading hundreds of people through a weekly routine of Sabbath, this is what I know about resting well.

I have mastered walking past dirty dishes and a disheveled house to lay on the couch with a good book or embark on an adventure in the neighborhood with my camera. Without guilt.

I have let go of accomplishment as definition for identity.

I have learned that preparation is the key for successful rest. I have conquered organizing my week toward Sabbath instead of away from it.

I have learned that Sabbath is not about me but abiding deeply in Jesus. I know that I hear Him with clarity on the days I rest, more than any other time in the week.

I know that Sabbath isn’t a magic formula only possible for the uber spiritual. It is a gift of God available to everyone.

I have learned all these things but I have not learned how to turn off my thoughts. I am taking notes on the practice of not thinking.

Lillias Trotter writes, “It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies.

Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning?

Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day?

Does this test not give the clue?

Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way.  Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focused on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.”

Perhaps what I am trying to achieve with the practice of not thinking is really an attempt to achieve focus.

When a hamster wheel of unproductive thoughts circle continuously, fear, worry, and doubt take me captive; stuck in the same circumstances without result.

Erwin McManus says that “imagination is the playground of God.” When the playground isn’t under spiritual supervision, all hell can break loose quickly. Wandering thoughts can be deceptive and damage the spirit when we allow the freedom.

The practice of not thinking is the discipline of resting thoughts; surrendering what can’t be controlled or figured out back under God’s authority. And the truth comes clearly into focus; Sabbath, the outcome.

Imagine that!

Happy Sabbath Friends!

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  1. Mary Gemmill

    Thinking of you prayerfully and hoping for your waiting time to be over soon…. I think the practice of not thinking must be the only way to survive this time ~!

    • Shelly Miller

      Or thinking about something else that gives me hope helps too Mary. I’m burying my thoughts in writing right now!

  2. Sharon

    Been thinking of you and your “waiting” and your upcoming move across the pond.
    It is difficult to “turn off” my brain sometimes. Glad to know I’m not the only one who battles this.

    • Shelly Miller

      Honored to know you are thinking about me Sharon. I hope I can share more with everyone soon.

  3. Lynn D. Morrissey

    This is a wonderful post, Shelly. First, I’m so sorry that you have not been experiencing Sabbath of the soul or mind. I know only too well what it feels like to ruminate on the wrong things. In fact, I was doing that last night, when I was *trying* to fall asleep! All the old fears and thoughts of failure were creeping in, keeping me from Sabbath sleep. I think the mind can just as easily be the playground of the devil. Of course, we never just “don’t think.” I get your meaning, of course, but the mind is always thinking something. And Lilias is right. It’s a matter of focus and taking our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. I love Philippians 4:8. Our mind experiences Sabbath rest when we think on *these* things….whatever is true, noble, upright, etc., and as Miss Trotter says, when we think on Christ. He *is* all those things. I don’t like to use this word much, but it’s a matter of discipline–training the mind to focus on the right things. It feels like work, and it is. And that doesn’t sound like rest. But it’s not “A” work like working for salvation, bur rather “working it out.” And I do think the result is rest–sweet blessed resting in the One whom we can trust. I’m reminded of what Kay Arthur always illustrates with Phil. 4:8. She says to frisk every thought that enters our mind (when we are thinking) and ask it, “Are you true? Are you noble?” etc. And if not, you send it packing. I’m really trying to do that and to think on Christ and things that are beautiful and true. Boy do I get what you are saying….the need to stop thinking on those things which bring me fear and despair. Oh….and on Lilias Trotter. How I LOVE her work. Miriam Rockness Huffman has a wonderful blog on her life, and has also written several books about her. Perhaps you are quoting from one. And when you are in England, I’ll tell you where you can go to see Lilias’s beautifully illustrated journals. She painted watercolors right into them. I had the rare privilege of spending several hours poring over them in a private viewing. Much love to you dear one as we both REFOCUS on Christ. A really beautiful post, dear Shelly!

    • Shelly Miller

      Actually it was Dea who sent me a link to Lillias Trotter’s work Lynn. And I have a friend who is a filmmaker that is making her next film about the life of Lillias. It is narrated by Michelle Dockery who plays Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey. I had not put two and two together that the artist whose work you were so excited to see while in London is the same artist. Wow, all the serendipity here is amazing.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        Just now reading this Shelly. Truly amazing. And is this the same film that Miriam Huffman is working on? I knew that she was very excited and it was the next step after she wrote the bio on Lilias anc compiled the drawing, journals, etc. She’s become rather an expert on her life. I knew there was a documentary in the making.

  4. Rachel Britz

    This is exactly where I’ve been lately, the land of Worry Wart. On some level, when I hear you speak it brings me an assurance that I’m not alone in this battle. This morning I was reading from 1 Peter 3 and was encouraged by his words, “…and do not give way to fear.” Let us not give up hope, sister. Let us keep praying and speaking truth to one another. xoxo

    • Shelly Miller

      Lovely to see you here in the comments Rachel. Glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this issue, you are good company. Hope all is well in your neck of the (frozen) woods. Thinking about you this morning as I watched the weather report. Brrr.

  5. Nancy Ruegg

    “Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focused on Christ and His glory.” I don’t have to ask; I know. All is NOT focused on Christ and His glory. My mind flits among many different topics, people, needs, wants, concerns, etc. I’m still learning what it means to practice his presence continually. Lord, I want to include you in the conversation that plays out in my mind, bringing every thought captive and making it obedient to You (2 Cor. 10:5). Thank you for continuing to challenge me, to bring me closer to You. And thank you for Shelly, too–her example of pressing on, and her encouragement to join in the quest of surrender.

    • Shelly Miller

      Love you Nancy. I know God hears the prayers of your heart and He is faithful to answer.

  6. DeanneMoore

    It is really incredible how God leads us to the very things we need…when we are ready to receive….love this for so many reasons and would love to see the illustrated journals that Lynn mentioned… someday….God bless you with a “focussed” Sabbath. xoxo

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Dea, here is Miriam’s blog about Lilias. She also wrote her biography, which you can Google on Amazon. I would also recommend Huffman’s other books as well.

        • DeanneMoore

          Thanks Lynn….such beauty there 🙂

          • Lynn Morrissey

            I hadn’t realized (from S. below) that you were familiar w/ her work. My prayer is for you both to see it in person in England!

          • DeanneMoore

            I so want the answer to your prayer to be answered with a YES, Lynn! Thank you sweet friend.

          • Lynn Morrissey

            Dea, I thnk you will go to England and you and Shelly will go to see Lilias’s work together!

    • Shelly Miller

      Your words are often timely, needed, God’s gift inserted into my situations. Thank you.

  7. Lori Harris

    Love you Shelly. I continually give thanks for your willingness to lead us into Sabbath rest. Thank you for your obedience.

    • Shelly Miller

      Honored to have you walking out this crazy life with me Lori. Your perspective and joy are a gift to the watching world.

  8. Jennifer Camp

    Yes! I adore this so much, Shelly! I have actually been setting a timer and trying to not think, not pray–not search for words–and let my mind be open for God. I simply just think about Him. . .Yes, that’s when the good stuff happens. 🙂 I am so encouraged by your wisdom, as always. Love to you.

    • Shelly Miller

      I have to wonder, for those of us who write and find listening to God imperative for what we do in sharing the messages He gives us, if it somehow even harder for us to turn that off. Or maybe harder to sort out the thoughts perhaps because we want to be attentive. I don’t know, your comment just had me thinking and comforted knowing I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

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