Much as I hate to admit it, I’ve got an addiction – and I suspect you do, too. It’s an addiction to noise.
We wake up and our sleep cobwebs are hardly dispersed before we flick on the TV, radio or grab our smartphones to find out what we’ve missed while we were sleeping. Getting into our cars, almost immediately we turn on the radio or CD player. If we go to the gym, we’re probably wearing headphones and listening to tunes or a message of some sort from an MP3 player.
At the coffee shop, eating lunch at a restaurant, or at the dinner table, we struggle to keep our hands off our phones, even though there are perfectly intelligent, conversational humans sitting within an arm’s length from us.
Noise. Noise. Noise. The constant din is so relentless, we’re almost oblivious to it. We lose the sense that sometimes, noise annoys. Occasionally we have that rare experience of being somewhere that’s quiet, where tranquility still exists. Then we begin a frantic search…for some noise. As if we require noise as much as we do oxygen, food or water.
The problem with noise is it makes it almost impossible to hear the Lord. The Scriptures speak of the “still, small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:12). This passage appears soon after the Lord had used the prophet Elijah as a virtual one-man band, fending off hundreds of false prophets representing counterfeit gods, and then accurately predicting the end of a 3½-year drought.
After receiving word the evil queen Jezebel had put a contract on his life, Elijah fled, physically, emotionally and spiritually spent. After giving the prophet time to recover from the stressful events, God had a special message for him. He sent a mighty wind, an earthquake and fire, but the Lord’s voice wasn’t in any of those. At last came a still, small voice – the gentle, understanding whisper of God telling Elijah it was time to return to action.
Sometimes when I meet with friends I ask, “What do you think the Lord is telling you these days?” Often they shrug their shoulders, no sure how to answer. It’s probably because they’ve been so immersed in noise – TV talk shows, music being piped into the mall, YouTube videos, or just preoccupation with apps on their smartphones – that there’s no way they could hear even if God spoke to them audibly.
I don’t have a simple remedy for this, being a fellow struggler with the “noise makers” of our day. My “addiction” truly is problematic. I find myself too often visiting favorite websites or checking out social media to see what my “friends” and contacts have been up to or what they’re saying. In the evenings, turning the TV on is almost a reflex.
But there are times, wonderful times, when the “sounds of silence” find me – and I find them happily refreshing. As I write this, the only sound I hear is that of my fingers tapping on the keyboard. A small airplane just flew over, but for a few brief moments, the accustomed noise has subsided.
Although there were no phone apps, TV programs, radio commentators, or even billboards to distract them, folks in biblical days still required intentionality to find quiet. Speaking to the psalmist, the Lord commanded, “Be still, and know that I am God…. I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). King David, with enemies in hot pursuit, wrote reflectively, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).
In a recent meditation, Cindy Hess Kasper wrote about a college president urging her students to “power down” for an evening, setting aside the cell phones and stepping away from technology entirely for a while, so they could spend the time in prayer and listening to quiet, worshipful music. The effect for many of the students was a surprisingly pleasant respite from the frenzy of daily life.
Maybe we should consider something along those lines ourselves. Even more than once. As the old TV commercial used to say, “Try it. You’ll like it!”