In today’s fast-paced and media driven world, where information bombards us from various sources such as TV, computers, cell phones and billboards, it is amazing to realize that the average person processes as much as 74 GB of information every day. This data overload, equivalent to watching 16 movies, continues to increase by approximately 5% each year. Sabine Heim and Andreas Keil, authors of the article “Too Much Information, Too Little Time” highlight this phenomenon.
For perspective, just 500 years ago (the 1500’s), a highly educated person would consume approximately 74 GB of information in their entire lifetime. This information would come from books, stories, attending plays, concerts, public executions — a form of entertainment but perhaps not for the highly educated — and other experiences of everyday life. Nowadays, entertainment platforms such as Netflix and Amazon provide us with an ever-increasing ocean of all types of content, good and bad, all at our fingertips without even leaving the couch.
Two thousand years ago, St. Paul implored us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray constantly.” Now I’m pretty sure things were not a bed of roses for those living during his day. It must have seemed as crazy then as it does today to be told to “pray constantly” when you are being hunted down by a government that was persecuting the early Christians for their beliefs. St. Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
As a kid I thought that these passages of St. Paul’s were impossible for anyone to attain! How on earth can anyone be expected to pray constantly, especially a kid, who, looking back now as an adult, may have had just a bit of attention deficit disorder. Yet, there it was in the Bible, in plain black and white, to pray constantly and do all to the glory of God.
It was hard enough to do this back then, and today, in the 21st century, the high volume of demands of our faith, family and our work for our time means that something’s certainly got to give. Of course, God usually gets the short end of the stick when it comes to one-on-one time with his created.
However, thanks be to God who designed us beautifully, the human brain possesses a remarkable tool known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to aid in filtering information. The RAS allows us to determine what is important and what is not, enabling us to focus on just important matters. By fine-tuning our mental gatekeeper (the RAS), we create our own unique filter to determine what enters our minds. Imagine the RAS as a filter, with tighter filters allowing less and hopefully more crucial information through, and looser filters that allow a torrent of data to occupy our thoughts which can also produce sleepless nights.
The RAS’s primary function then is to filter the ocean of data that bombards us and retain only what is crucial to us individually. In reality, most of the daily barrage of data is truly garbage. A simple example of how this works is when someone decides they want to buy a specific car down to the exact make, model and color. They begin to see that exact car everywhere, making it seem as though everyone has the same excellent taste in cars! This selective attention demonstrates the RAS in action and its ability to keep us focused on what truly matters — even when we decide a consumer product is the most important thing in the world.
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So, getting back to praying constantly. We must ask ourselves: Is God important to us? If the answer is yes, then you will need to train your RAS to allow thoughts of him throughout the day into your mind. By incorporating God into our thoughts throughout the day, we create a habit of praise and gratitude, appreciating both the good that happens and also the lessons learned from challenging experiences at work.
Designing our spiritually-oriented RAS begins with developing the habit of starting and ending the day with thoughts of God. Start the day with what St. Josemaria Escriva called the Heroic Minute. I think he called it “Heroic” because he said (paraphrasing here) to make the snooze button your enemy. When the alarm goes off, jump out of bed, get on your knees and immediately express gratitude for the upcoming day, regardless of what lies ahead. Additionally, dedicating just a small bit of time at the end of the day for reflection, an examen, allows us to assess our actions and behaviors, identifying areas where we emulated Christ and when we fell short while resolving to improve ourselves the next day.
When we focus on what truly matters and ensure that God remains foremost in our minds throughout the workday, it makes praying constantly as natural as breathing.