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A Surprising Solution for Stressful Times

Sales of stationery are booming. Writing pads, drawing sets, diaries, and binders are all selling at levels unseen in years. What is happening here?

Public relations entrepreneur Angela Ceberano has an explanation: “Sometimes, I just want to get rid of all the technology and sit down in a quiet space with a pen and paper.” According to scientists, she’s onto something.

Research by Princeton University and UCLA showed that the pen is indeed mightier than the keyboard. In three studies, students who took notes longhand performed better on conceptual questions than those who took notes on laptops. Another study shows that people who doodle on paper can better recall dull information.

C. S. Lewis never learned to type. Novelist Joyce Carol Oates writes all her books by longhand. Tom Wolfe used typewriters but couldn’t keep them maintained, so he wrote his last novel longhand. Danielle Steele writes all her books on a 1946 Olympia manual typewriter. P. J. O’Rourke uses a Selectric typewriter.

Creativity and simplicity are directly related. But these are not simple times.

It’s hard to read the news without angst these days. For instance, this morning’s Wall Street Journal reports that nascent peace talks in Syria are already in trouble as the government called rebels “armed terrorist groups” and the rebels refused to talk directly to the government. Today’s Los Angeles Times tells us that California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency after storms caused flooding, erosion, and highway damage.

And today’s Wall Street Journal also reports that school districts across the country are closing due to another norovirus outbreak. “We think this is the most infectious group of pathogens that have ever been described,” one health expert says. Unsurprisingly, the American Psychological Association notes that 75 percent of adults experienced moderate to high levels of stress in the past month.

There’s an antidote to the anxiety of our age, however.

David rejoiced that his Shepherd “leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2). Zephaniah assured his people that their Lord would “quiet you by his love” (Zephaniah 3:17). From these texts, I draw this conclusion: if my “waters” are not “still,” I am not following my Shepherd. If my soul is not “quiet,” I am not fully experiencing his love.

Does this mean that trusting God guarantees a tranquil life? Not at all. Remember how tumultuous David’s life was. But however chaotic his times, his soul could be “still.” Zephaniah prophesied shortly before the nation of Judah fell into Babylonian exile. Yet God’s love was so constant that it would “quiet” those who experienced it personally.

It still does.

We were made for personal relationship with our Maker. Nothing less will fill the God-shaped emptiness Pascal described. The more secular our age, the more stressed our souls. Retreating from technology helps, but peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), not stationery.

In Thomas Kelly’s classic A Testament of Devotion, we read: “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.”

Can you hear this Voice today? If not, why not?


Publication date: January 24, 2017


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