Have you ever had someone come into the room and say, “Think fast!” as they throw something at you that you either need to catch or dodge? Thinking fast is the opposite of pondering. The act of thinking changes when we slow down the process. As we take time to think things through there is time to do things that “thinking fast” does not allow us to do. Taking time to think actually changes us, not just our thoughts.
Satan knows and understands the power of taking time to think something through. In our day and time on earth he has been working hard to make sure we are so busy that we don’t have time to think deeply. He does this by filling our world with voices, each louder than the last, each with a demand upon our time, our attention, our passions, and our emotional reserves.
I have raised teenagers, and have been around college students for many years, and I have heard and seen one single unifying thing expressed over and over again. “I am afraid to be alone with my own thoughts – it scares me.” Even my own children have admitted to this. Every moment of the day is filled with Twitter, Facebook, cell phone, Internet, talking, reading, music – noise! They don’t know what to do with themselves when you take all that away and they are left with silence. They have forgotten what it is like to be alone with themselves. In an age that demands multitasking as a prerequisite to employment, we have developed a population who thinks they make their own decisions, but in reality, those decisions are made for them by marketers and advertisers – the real voices in their heads.
If you want to know what it means to ponder, and how to do it, you need to understand what you are getting yourself into. Here are just some of the things that happen when you learn to ponder.
When we are faced with challenges and difficulties, taking time to think about what troubles us allows our minds to do what they do best, solve problems and find solutions. One way to ponder is the go to work. Do something physical. Mow the lawn, plant a garden, shovel the walk, carve something, make something. When we think first and spend time trying to solve a problem, and we think about it until we can’t think about it any more, because our head hurts, go do something physical. As we focus on a physical task, our mind is still working on our problem in the background. This gives our mind time to process all that we have thought of, time to start making connections of things in our past and present that might help us find a solution, and gives our mind a chance to come to grips with what we are dealing with. This could happen intellectually or emotionally. There is a special connection between physical work and mental effort that is symbiotic in nature. That means the two things work with and help each other. Mental effort helps us think better, but physical work helps us solidify our mental processes into something that just thinking cannot often do by itself. Go weed your garden or help a neighbor re-shingle a roof. Do anything, lift weights, cook, clean house, anything. But do it quietly. That is the key. Give your mind time to rest and go into low-power mode while you turn your attention to other activities. And don’t put in earphones or crank up your speakers. Work in silence. Set your thoughts free to roam. You will be amazed at where you mentally, and emotionally learn to go and what you learn about yourself in the process.
With practice, we learn to actually enjoy having some quiet time to ourselves. Time that is undisturbed becomes cherished time. This is our time of replenishment, rejuvenation, and invigoration. We discover that spending time in contemplation and reflection actually helps us come to answer questions we have, and solve problems we encounter. This is a growing process because we learn where our priorities are, where our loves lie. We learn more about what makes us “tick.” We come to learn that despite our personal flaws, we can actually stand to be around ourselves. We aren’t so bad after all. My mother referred to this process as becoming comfortable in one’s own skin.
You Gain Clarity and Revelation
Pondering works especially well when we read the scriptures and then spend time trying to understand how what we have read fits with what we already know. Some of the great revelations in scripture came because the prophet had been studying the scriptures and then spent time thinking about what he had just read, trying to understand all the implications in his own life and how it fit into the plan of salvation.
We are taught in the gospel that the Spirit whispers to us by a still, small voice. The Holy Ghost needs for us to be in some state of peace to be able to talk to us without shouting. If you listen to the Brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, you will hear them say that they keep paper and pencil next to them on their nightstand, because it is in the still, small hours of the night, when they have finally quieted the noise of the day that revelation comes to them in their sleep. If they don’t write it down immediately upon waking, they forget it. They understand how the Spirit works, so they equip themselves with note-taking materials for when the thoughts come to them.
There have been times when I have come out of bed with something running through my head. I can’t sleep well until I write it down, so at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning my wife will find me at the computer getting it out. When I have written it all down, I am able to sleep, and sleep well. It is annoying as all get out, but some of my best work comes in the still of the night.
I have written about how to listen to the Holy Ghost before, and about the still, small voice of the Spirit. I have included a link to that article at the end of this post.
A word of warning then a word of encouragement: Joseph B. Wirthlin from the Quorum of the Seventy said once, “The insidious process of transforming a person from goodness to evil is a subtle, usually undeliberate one. It is a process of pondering the wrong thoughts, of planting evil seeds in the heart.” So be careful what you choose to dwell on or think about for long periods of time. We are the products of our thoughts, be they good or evil, so monitor your thoughts constantly to make sure you are not wandering into places that could do you harm. That is my word of warning.
Now for my word of encouragement: taking time to think is called many things. Sometimes we refer to it as soul searching or dwelling on something or deliberating on something. They all tend to do the same thing. The process of taking time to think, to ponder, to search within our own mind and heart brings peace, for it quiets the soul. It brings a sense of purpose, clarity, direction, answers to prayer, and learning. It helps us gain the knowledge that we can stand on our own two feet and face the world with confidence. We come to know we can connect to the infinite when we make, and take time to ponder.
A Lesson in How to Ponder
Okay, so you are hopefully now sold on the idea of pondering, but you are not sure how to start. Here is an example of how I might begin. Much of what goes into a successful session of pondering are the questions we learn to ask. This takes practice, so don’t worry if you cannot think of much on your first few attempts. It will get easier with practice.
Example: Let’s pick the subject of pondering (imagine that!). I want to understand how the prophets ponder, since I remember several scriptures talking about how the prophets were meditating or pondering over the scriptures when they received revelation.
- Pick a prophet to think about. Let’s pick Joseph F. Smith and his revelation on the redemption of the dead in Doctrine and Covenants 138.
- Get your scriptures and open them up then read the heading that tells what happened that lead up to the revelation
- Now read the actual revelation.
- As you read the revelation try to put yourself into President Smith’s position. You are reading these scriptures, and wondering how it all fits in with what you know about Christ’s death, resurrection, and the scriptures other prophets have written about him delivering the captives. Allow yourself to wonder – How did that prophecy get fulfilled? When did that happen?
- As you read Section 138, try to see in your own mind what he saw. Put yourself into the position of Adam or Noah, who had been waiting for this day for thousands of years. They knew that Christ was on the earth. They knew that the atonement was being worked out at that very moment. They knew that all their hopes and their dreams were about to come true when the Savior, whom they had served and worshiped during mortality, completed his time on earth. Now suddenly here He is, in front of you, proclaiming that at long last, the atonement is complete. The savior you proclaimed your whole life has fulfilled all His promises to you. The conqueror has come home. Imagine the joy and weeping, the expressions of gratitude by those who had been so faithful, and who had been so patiently waiting all this time.
- Try to understand why the Lord immediately began to organize the missionary work for those who were still held captive in Spirit Prison. His atonement could still reach them, still save them and bring them joy. He had only a matter of hours to organize the work before he had to resurrect himself and return to His Father to report on his earthly life. So much to be done.
Are you getting the picture? Pondering is not a passive process. It is very active, and full of emotion and involvement. Pondering is an active work of trying to understand something that has eluded you. It is the act of pulling pieces of information from all over the landscape of your understanding and trying to make something new out of it. This is why pondering works so well with gospel topics. It is a prime way to set yourself up for inspiration and revelation from the Holy Ghost. This reminds me, be sure to pray for guidance and help in your pondering. Always invite the Spirit and ask for the needed revelation to understand what you are pondering.
Conference Talks to Watch
Ponder the Path of Thy Feet
ELAINE L. JACK
Pondering Strengthens the Spiritual Life
JOSEPH B. WIRTHLIN
Of the First Quorum of the Seventy