The Burden of Thinking

Paying attention is the tuition fee I give the world for tutoring me, and in turn, I sharpen my own spiritual perception because God made this world I’m observing.

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I don’t have to tell you how polarized our world currently is, right down to the household, but I do wonder if you think it’s always been this way? Have “we” always been divided, or are our divisions simply more broadcast these days? I think it’s possible we are more opinionated than ever because we are more informed than ever, and therefore we feel more entitled to share our opinions. Our access to information used to be slower and limited, and opinions followed suit. But information does not automatically produce good thinking or wisdom or discernment, unfortunately. If it did, we’d be basking in the utopia of perfected humanity.

Tim and I have been talking a lot lately about our need to simply pay attention. I am guilty of not paying enough attention and all my own education has been an effort to observe more, to see better, to hear accurately. I think paying attention includes gathering information, but not the second-hand kind we get easily, the kind fed to us through the internet and easy iterations of facts-that-might-be-opinions-but-I-heard-it-somewhere. Paying attention is more about turning off the information and seeing the world through my own eyes, with my own Spirit-led intuition.


intuition (n.) “insight, direct or immediate cognition, spiritual perception,”; from Latin intueri “look at, consider,”

tuition (n.) “a looking after, a caring for, watching over, protection, guardianship,” from tuitus, past participle of tueri “to look after”. The meaning “money paid for instruction” (1828) probably is short for tuition fees, in which tuition refers to the act of teaching and instruction (a sense attested from the 1580s).

Paying attention is the tuition fee I give the world for tutoring me, and in turn, I sharpen my own spiritual perception because God made this world I’m observing. The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it; the world and all who live in it, and this biblical poetry is foundational to my intuition. We have these wake-up calls to perception, and I worship God when I pay attention to His world.

What I see in the world is that there are changes every day and I can’t keep up with the upkeep of manipulating information, managing it for better output or gathering it for greater knowledge. I just can’t. I hear there are conspiracy theories abounding but I won’t go searching them out. That kind of attention is paid for with more and more theories, more opinions, more confusion, and every kind of chaos God calls us to undo. I would rather be unknowing. I will not try to keep up with everything.

I admit: sometimes it is easier to shirk the burden of thinking and let some expert or smart person or spiritual leader do the heavy lifting for me. I am thankful for people I can trust.

The burden of thinking is a call to us as individuals, not as groups or organizations, though. Tasting and seeing and hearing and handling are all scriptural calls to us personally, using the senses God has given us, and they all contribute to our understanding. But we don’t “think for ourselves,” really. Our thoughts are formed from our groups, our history, our books—as Alan Jacobs taught me in his book How to Think: “To think independently of other human beings is impossible, and if it were possible it would be undesirable. Thinking is necessarily, thoroughly, and wonderfully social. Everything you think is a response to what someone else has thought and said. And when people commend someone for ‘thinking for herself’ they usually mean ‘ceasing to sound like people I dislike and starting to sound more like people I approve of.’”

I am a free person, first because Christ has set me free and second, because I am an American, and part of having freedom is accepting the responsibility, the burden, to think well and make good decisions. I am a slow processor—meaning, I take a while to come to conclusions and I would never be a good First Responder—and there is so much I don’t know. “I know that I know nothing,” according to Socrates, is a good place to learn from, but it’s hard to make decisions from there.

An agnostic believes nothing certain can be known about God. This is not at all what I’m saying. I do know some stuff, but I don’t know it independently and I need others to help me along in my thinking. I choose to listen to those I know I disagree with (sometimes) because I believe Truth is not fragile and I’m interested in how people think—as long as I can believe they are good-willed people. How do they come to conclusions? Where might I be blind? Years ago I read an article that admonished college students to look for professors who were encouraging thought instead of forcing conformity. Always ask for the best argument of your opposition. An expert should know what their theoretical opponent believes, and a Christian should be well-enough established in the authority of Scripture—to have our mind made up about the most important things—to be able to hear opposing views.

I am only an expert in a few small, beautiful things—things I’ve committed a lot of time and effort to. Most other things I preface with the words, “I think…” as a way of warning you: I don’t know for certain. I’m guessing, hoping, praying, and looking for the best way to tell the story of right now.

The burden of thinking is that it requires a great amount of humility, time, effort, and conversation—this is why people who are overly authoritative and always right make me suspicious. And annoyed. Information is always changing and there are important decisions to be thoughtfully made, and no one is right all the time. If I can combine my intuition with my attention and listen to the best arguments on either side, I can handle the burden of thinking slowly and deeply about a few important things, and hopefully, the humility of being wrong sometimes.


Written by: Tresta Payne


This is an updated edition of a post originally published on

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