My newest obsession is beeswax tea light candles. With help from a couple of rustic wooden candle holders, they have made a cheerful addition to our table and my nightstand. One thing I look forward to each evening is burning my candle while sitting in my comfy chair reading a book for a few minutes. That short time to relax my body and feed my mind does wonders to refresh me for the (likely sleepless) night that lies before me. Recently I started taking an hour of this kind of relaxation time on Saturday afternoons while my husband plays with the baby. I’m a mom who doesn’t enjoy naps (I know, judge me all you want), so this is my way of refreshing myself.
Last Saturday when I finished my hour long latte and book session, I turned to blow my candle out and noticed that it had burned down almost completely evenly. I thought how good it had been for my mind to sit still pondering words on a page long enough for my candle to burn down like that. And it made me think of a passage in the Bible:
My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue, Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.
While I was musing the fire burned… What does that word “muse” even mean? Muse, when used as a verb, means “to be absorbed in thought.” In this passage, David took time to be absorbed in thought because his mind was troubled over the wickedness before him. It was after taking this time that he was able to speak and put things in perspective.
There’s a lot of talk about mental health today; most of that talk is about emotional health. I think that’s great and extremely important. However, there’s more to the mind than the emotions. Ancient philosophers said that there were three parts of the mind. The part dealing with the emotions is the “affective” part. The “conative” part of the mind is the part that drives our actions. However, in this post I want to focus on the “cognitive” part of the mind. This refers to our intellect. I truly believe that intellectual health is an important part of the health of our minds.
Unfortunately, many people stop exercising their intellect at the end of formal schooling. If your job doesn’t involve much critical thinking or learning, and you’re not taking the time to exercise your intellect on your own, your intellectual health may be in worse shape than you think. When you don’t exercise your intellect, your brain is weaker and is actually more susceptible to things like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. When you take the time to strengthen your intellect, you make your brain more resistant to these diseases. Also, as the Bible passage mentioned above shows us, you have more clarity to process the world around you in a godly way.
I particularly enjoy reading as as way to strengthen my mind. Good nonfiction that challenges me to grow as well as fiction that exercises my imagination are both an important part of exercising my mind. I try to read a good balance of fiction and nonfiction. I also enjoy writing to develop my critical thinking skills (which is why I’m writing right now, even though it would be easier to turn off my mind and scroll social media while my baby naps). Meditating on God’s Word and praying are not only important to our spiritual health, but they also help exercise our mind by teaching us to focus in a culture with increasingly shorter attention spans.
Maybe you enjoy exercising your intellect in another way like solving puzzles, playing games that involve critical thinking skills, being creative through artwork, learning a new language, researching a subject that interests you, or engaging in deep conversation. Pick something that appeals to you, and take time on a regular basis to take care of your intellectual health!
God created us with a body, a mind, and a spirit. Nobody would argue that bodily exercise isn’t important, and believers understand just how important spiritual health is. Don’t neglect the health of your mind either. Take some time today to do something for your intellectual health. Let a candle burn low while you’re absorbed in thought. When you’re finished, you will find that your mind is refreshed and you can see the world as God sees it more clearly.