Rare Silence

I am always writing my blogs late at night, it seems, finding space in my day only after my entire family is tucked between the sheets. My daily work routine starts early and is filled with short, noisy people whose personal schedules collectively work to prevent any kind of agenda of my own, and my evenings are not much quieter. A few weeks ago I tried to take my husband’s persistent advice to plan ahead and schedule time to write. So I went to a Starbucks to get away from the activity at the house and give myself mental space to write something even remotely worth reading.

At Starbucks, however, I was surrounded by people; the employees serving their customers and calling to each other as they filled orders; discussions all around me as people met and connected with each other at this coffee shop.

  • “Do you want pumpkin spice with that?”
  • “How’s the wedding planning going?”
  • “Do you need room in the cup for cream?”
  • “Have your girlfriend come over so we can meet her.”
  • “Tall hot chocolate! Here you go!”
  • “I’m a butterfly! Yes!” (I don’t even know what this last statement meant, but it’s definitely interesting.)

I found myself wondering why on earth I thought it was a good idea to come to this noisy location in order to give myself a chance to think.

Finding a truly quiet place is a real challenge these days. Had you noticed? Even if I came to this coffee shop at a less-busy time, there would be the background music. Designed, I suppose, to fill in those “awkward silences.” Nowadays I can’t even fill up the gas tank of my car without listening to the music piped outside or – even better! – whatever happens to be playing on the flat-screen televisions that are now installed at every pump.

OK, come on, now. Are we really so afraid of being alone with our thoughts that we need to watch TV for those few minutes when we’re forced to stand outside our cars and monitor the gas pump?

Another example. At the mall recently, I was shopping at a store where the music was so loud that I literally could not hear my daughter as we talked about whether or not the item we were looking at was a keeper. When one of the store employees shouted over at me, asking me how I was doing, I indicated that perhaps the music was a tad loud. I had to use hand gestures and lots of body motion to try to get my point across because – after all – she couldn’t hear me over the piped-in music, either. She smiled at me, nodded, and returned to folding shirts. She hadn’t heard a word I’d said.

But it’s not just the malls, either. The grocery store where I shop has music playing, or the radio play-by-play of the Mizzou game; anything to prevent me from having to pick up the items on my grocery list in dreaded silence.

Or have you gone to a movie recently? If you arrive at the theater early, thinking you might get a good seat and sit in the cool, dark silence for a bit, collecting your thoughts or maybe enjoying a quiet conversation with whoever you’re with, you’ll be sadly disappointed. To entertain you before the real entertainment, there is – yep, you guessed it! – music as well as video entertainment flashing up on the screen. Riddles and games, trivia and advertisements.

So this is where I will probably end up sounding like your Grandma railing on about “the good old days before television,” but I wonder if we are so hopelessly distracted by all of our various forms of entertainment wherever we go for a purpose? Could it be that the god of this world is delightfully using all this wonderful technology to prevent us from hearing God’s voice?

In times past, other generations obviously did not have the mobile technology that we now have. Far from having to sit in front of the television or radio at a certain time to hear the news, for instance, we can find whatever entertainment we want, whenever we want it, and we can just grab our iPods, plug in our ear buds, and off we go with our own personal distractions piped right into our heads.

This seems to me to be a bit of a danger, at least. I’m so surrounded by options for my own personal entertainment that I have to work hard to find a silent space in which to write, or pray, or even just think through some issue in my life. (And I have plenty of issues to work through.)

And even when I do find that silent space, I soon realize that my mind is so full of unfinished lines of thought, concerns about people never quite expressed or addressed, and to-do’s that never got onto a list that, even in silence, my mind is still “noisy.”

It takes me awhile to quiet the noise in my head, even when the noise outside of it has blessedly ceased. That’s when focusing on God’s Word can help me quiet the internal and external distractions long enough to direct my heart and mind in one place, giving me space to “Selah.”

One of my favorite verses comes from Psalm 46. Verse 10 exhorts us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” In this relatively-short Psalm, the word “Selah” is also used three times. My best understanding of this word is that it is used as an exhortation to weigh the preceding words of God and wisely consider them, to give thoughtful reflection to what was just read. In order to do this, we need to slow down, ponder, meditate and consider. So to me, Psalm 46, while saying much about God’s sovereignty, power and protection for those who seek Him, also urges us over and over to slow down and consider what God is saying to us.

How can we properly consider what God is saying, when we can barely hear ourselves think? How can I follow Him if I can’t even hear Him?

I know our lives are all busy – mine certainly is – and we can’t always get away from the piped-in music and strategically-placed flat-screen entertainment going on all around us. But we can, and should, respond to the noise around us by being more intentional about finding a quiet space to sit with God’s Word and to “Selah” – allowing Him to speak to our hearts in the quiet.

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the
earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (Selah)

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Selah)

Come behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.

Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Selah)

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