On those rare days when life requires little of us when evening draws to a close, and my husband and I are watching our millionth episode of The Great British Bakeoff, every so often I'll hear an abrupt and unexpected video blaring from his phone. I always get in an appalled and furrowed look before he finally turns the volume down and watches whatever video it is in silence. Usually, it's something sport-related; drafts, or post-game interviews, or replays. But it's always so jarring to me. I can't listen to two things at once. Aside from how silly it is to watch something on your phone while you're watching TV, there's something absolutely manic about all the noise. Within a moment, two distinct things become one conglomeration of sound. It's too much.
In college, I was never one who could study in a caf√© or while listening to music. Even now, I can't work if there's music, TV, or conversations nearby. I can't think if there's too much noise. My brain can't process it, or at least it doesn't want to. Noise has always been my nemesis. I've realized, though, over the past few years that noise isn't only audible. There's noise around us all the time, whether or not it makes a sound. Our phone screens, our families, our worries, our cravings, and our duties clamor around us all the time. There's a hefty list of things in life that compete for your thoughts and attention.
It is comfortable for us to sit on a couch watching TV while scrolling through social media on our phone. Or listening to music while reading a book. Or having a conversation while listening to a podcast. Or, how often do we read pages of a book only to realize our mind has wandered to what happened at work or our to-do list and we weren't really paying attention? Some of us might be better at splitting our attention in these ways, but I certainly am not one able to do so. Believe me, I'm a massive advocate for multi-tasking, but I have to wonder–is the noise good for us? Are we better people, better Christians, when we are around so much noise?
I've felt lethargic lately. I've felt like my mind is consumed by responsibilities, hopes, and dreams. I'm continually checking calendars and deadlines, and craving time where I can "turn off" my mind. My brain feels chaotic and crashing most days. I've come to realize that I haven't been appropriately allowing my mind to rest because I'm consuming noise incessantly. The truth is that The Great British Bake off doesn't provide real rest for my brain. Neither does my phone. The noise of Instagram, the noise of Twitter, the noise of texting, researching, planning–there has been no space for breathing in my mind. Right now, it feels as though my mind is a dresser drawer with the clothes spilling and strewn about. Disheveled, disarrayed, and raucous. No cushion to let my thoughts roam. When our thoughts are leashed to life's pressures and grievances, they're incapable of roaming toward affection to the Father.
I'm a person who needs silence. I'd argue that all of us are. I'd argue that Jesus argues that we all are. Introspection is something that comes more easily to some and difficultly to others, but contemplation is an essential part of our spiritual health. I joked the other day that I had found my life verse in Mark 6:31, "And
Jesus often funneled Himself away from the crowds, going to the wilderness or to be alone with the sea (Mt. 4:1, 13:1, 14:13, Mk 1:35, 1:45, 2:13, Luke 21:37, 4:42, 5:16, John 11:54,18:1). In the first several chapters of his Gospel, Mark repeatedly remarks that Jesus withdrew to desolate places with the beasts or the sea. In Mark's account of Jesus walking on water, he says:
"He made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side. . . And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully. . . He came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased." Mark 6:45-51
Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him and took the opportunity to be alone. He used His solitude to shut out the noise of the crowds (even including His twelve closest friends) and refresh Himself with prayer. Looking out from the summit, Jesus saw the disciples struggle against the wind in their boat. My favorite part: He meant to pass by them. He didn't intend to stop and get in the boat with them. He intended to pass them, getting on the other side of the storm and the sea onto the shore. It really makes me ask the question: How often did Jesus walk on the sea alone, undetected by sailors or His own disciples?
My point is this: we don't have every single account of Jesus retreating in the four Gospel accounts. Even still, we have a lot of examples when He did so. And if Jesus saw fit to practice the principle of solitude and silence, shouldn't we reexamine how this principle fits into our lives?
I think all of our minds need a little bit of breathing room from the noise that surrounds us. We could all use a little less distraction. I recognize that carving out time for silence seems very un-pragmatic, especially for those with small children or other rigorous demands. But Jesus shows us how important this is. I'd say Jesus was probably the most demanded-of and busy Man in all of history. He knew He still needed to retreat.
All-in-all, there will still be days I'm prone to zombie-stare at my phone or television, but I'm trying to get better, trying to recognize the Spirit's prompting when I need some silence. I'm not telling you to withdraw to your closest mountain or shoreline, but maybe it's time to put down our phones a little more often. I'm advocating that we should think twice before volunteering time we don't have, we ask questions about the godliness (or maybe lack thereof?) of busyness, and that we prioritize bouts of solitude and silence. Maybe it's time to shut off the radio, even if it's worship music. Maybe we could all implement planned breaks from screens and let our eyes rest on the glory of God's creation instead. Maybe it's time to withdraw, even for a few moments, enjoying and delighting in God.