The world we live in can be loud, raucous, and distracting. With the influx of technology, it seems as though noise awaits us around every corner. Against the backdrop of all this noise, we might overlook silence as a way to encounter God—and maybe even fear it.
My typical day goes like this: the alarm beeps at 6:30AM to wake me up for work. An hour later, I get into my car and turn on the radio to listen to Christian music during my commute. As soon as I walk into the office, my computer dings, alerting me to emails, and my office phone rings throughout the day. After work, the radio comes back on as I head to the gym, where I either watch Netflix or listen to Spotify during my workout. My husband and I watch an episode or two of The Office or Parks and Recreation before heading to bed around 11:00PM. The next morning, it starts all over again.
I recently noticed how inundated with noise the world and my life have become, and now I look for any opportunity to go off the grid and escape the noise. I went skiing a few weeks ago, seeking quiet time and an encounter with God in the natural beauty of Creation. As I waited to board the chair lift, I noticed that most of the people skiing (either by themselves or with others) were wearing headphones. I got on the chair lift and the people sitting next to me were listening to the Beatles on Spotify. I love the Beatles just as much as the next person, but this was my first Beatles-themed ride up the mountain. There we were, surrounded by snow-covered trees, pristine snow, and the rushing sound of the wind – with a Beatles soundtrack. This wasn’t exactly how I pictured my morning skiing, but the experience made me wonder about our culture’s – dare I say it – obsession with noise.
I recently noticed how inundated with noise the world and my life have become
I thought about this experience during the forty-minute drive back down the mountain. Interestingly enough, I had decided to turn off the radio on my way home so I could enjoy the sound of the world. I realized how much I enjoyed the silence and began to wonder about other ways I could eliminate unnecessary noise in my life. Providentially, my husband, David, was just about to start Exodus 90. If you’re unfamiliar with Exodus 90, it’s a challenge for Catholic men that requires them to give up a multitude of creature comforts for the ninety days preceding Easter. Such comforts include desserts, alcohol, snacks, hot showers, the Internet, and TV. The goal is to untangle yourself from the distractions of the world and refocus on God.
When David first told me about this challenge, I was skeptical, yet intrigued. I decided to do a mini version of the challenge and see how I would fare. One week in, I realized that I use noise to drown out God’s voice, especially when I feel like I’m falling short spiritually. The noise is convenient at those times because it provides a momentary distraction from the deep questions whose very presence exhausts you. Am I following my vocation as a lawyer? What are my next steps? When should we think about starting our family? How do I make that work with full-time legal work? The first week of my revised Exodus 90 forced me to confront these questions, among others, and to reflect on the encounters with God I have intentionally or accidentally drowned out over the years.
The first week of my revised Exodus 90 forced me to confront [hard] questions . . . and to reflect on the encounters with God I have intentionally or accidentally drowned out over the years.
The Oxford Dictionary defines silence as “the complete absence of sound.” This makes silence seem empty because it highlights what is absent, rather than what is present. Silence provides the opportunity for a rich and vulnerable encounter with God. As our world becomes noisier and we become inundated with more technology, God is steadily edged out in favor of that noise which satisfies us immediately (e.g. our favorite TV show or podcast). If we aren’t careful, we can spend more time listening to this noise than we do encountering God. While silence is not the only way to do this, it is an excellent way to develop our personal relationship with God and restore Him as the focal point of our lives.
As we enter the season of Lent, I challenge you to honestly ask yourself if noise drowns out God’s voice in your life, as it did in mine. I challenge you to escape the noise of the world (to the best of your ability) and be silent, if for no other reason than to shake up your spiritual life. I challenge you to allow yourself to be attentive to God’s voice in the silence and be filled and nurtured by it. Because silence is not empty—it is filled with God’s presence and invites us to encounter Him.