Coffee Stains: Staring Into SpaceAuthor: David Porter
We were driving through the countryside in Kenya when my son Charles was a missionary there.
The landscape was kind of pre-moon, dry with sparse grass and rocks and boulders strewn around, acacia trees popping up here and there for shade. Charles drove so I had plenty of time to look. A herdsman caught my attention, dressed in his skirt, sitting on a small rock, watching his herd of cattle. What struck me though, was that he seemed lost in thought, staring vacantly into space as his bovine charges scrabbled for clumps of grass in the dryness. The question that intrigued me, though, was, ‘What is this fellow thinking about?” I mean, here he is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cows. No television, no interesting friends. The only twitters came from crickets. Looked like a recipe for boredom to me. If I had been there I would have loaded down my mp3 with sermons from my favorite preachers Dan Betzer, Ravi Zacharias, Andy Stanley, Erwin McManess and the rest of the crew. I would have a backpack with a book or a favorite magazine mixed in with a candy bar or two and my Bible. My notebook and trusty ballpoint would have been nearby. How can someone just sit there and think? What does that accomplish?
Yesterday I took a walk through the woods and paused to sit on an old bench not far from the path. The early Spring sun shone through trees that were putting on their new green clothes after a long winter of nakedness. Birds and the wind provided the musical accompaniment as I looked and thought. Even the paintings in the museum of the Louvre in Paris couldn’t rival the beauty around me. And I thought about that herdsman in Africa. He was probably a lot like a shepherd who lived in Judah three thousand years before him. I know David probably spent several hours a day flinging stones from his slingshot, killing fleas at 30 yards and scaring every crow within a radius of one mile. And he spent a lot of time doing whatever it is that shepherds do. But that still left a lot of time for sitting, looking into space and reflecting. For us, that’s a recipe for boredom but I wonder if he didn’t begin to know what God was like as he looked into the heavens and thought about the stars. He applied the truths of what he had learned from scripture to his own heart as he took the time to weigh what was important in life and decide what he really wanted to be and do. Walking and communicating with his Maker molded him into a shepherd, who became the shepherd of God’s people. And he became a type of the Great Shepherd of God’s people.
What’s the most horrible thing that can happen to us today? Our kids know: ‘I’m bored!’ So we play video games to improve our fighter pilot skills and learn how to react quickly to kill monsters carrying AK-47s””all skills we often use in everyday life. Parents drown their boredom in television. As the Stomach Turns lets us vicariously cry about other peoples’ problem, because we don’t have enough of our own, I guess. And don’t talk about football games on television, because that’s an entirely different thing … I hope anyway.
What scares us about quiet? Why are we afraid to think? What drives us to fill every waking moment with something that distracts us? I wonder if this isn’t why some of the ideas that are being flashed before us today aren’t challenged more often. We no longer take the time to think things through and we let political correctness and coolness think for us. Of course we can’t just sit and think all the time. We need to work. We need to play. We need input from others. But we need some, ‘staring into space” time so that we can get things into perspective and see life from God’s perspective.
‘This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isa. 30:15, NIV)
One of the wisest men in history seemed to have spent quite a bit of time watching ants. You talk about nothing to do!
‘Prov. 6: 6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! NIV
But he learned wisdom because he stopped and thought about it. Have you taken any ‘staring into space’ time recently? Leave your mp3 player at home, walk into the woods, lean back against a tree and just look. You’ll probably find out what African herdsmen think about as they sit on their rock.
At the age of 20 we’re optimists, visionaries, or maybe hedonists but I suspect at 60 most of us are philosophers. Life passes so fast. Young people look ahead and don’t always analyze. Older people can look back and reflect on what’s happened. The problem is that by the time you analyze it, it’s too late to change it. Twenty to sixty-forty years is a long time and you don’t usually get forty more years to get it right after you’ve thought it through. It’s good to think while you’re young and mix reflection with your vision and optimism. I don’t say hedonism, because there’s not much reflection in hedonism. The hedonist reflects afterwards, and how!