And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!
-Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The sound of Christmas singing and holiday cheer was nothing but an unwelcome racket to someone as cranky as the Grinch. A creature of solitude, he wanted simply to be left alone in peace and quiet to wallow in his own misery. However, the Christmas hullabaloo down below in Whoville inevitably echoed up the mountainside every year to hassle the old grump, leaving him unable to keep the life of undisturbed silence he would angrily fight for.
This week I discovered that the Grinch and I have something in common. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with hating Christmas, stealing from people, or being green. Rather, like the Grinch, I’m slowly become more aware of the noise around me. Or, perhaps, it’s more like I’m getting annoyed by the noise around me. Being a relatively young man (31) and in the throes of raising a family with three small children, life is busy. There is always something to do, and the task list grows faster than my ability to check things off. There are meetings, errands, home care, shopping, feeding, bathing kids, and of course the crazy teenagers I spend every Tuesday and Wednesday night with at youth group. Life often just seems LOUD.
I’ll admit I need to give credit to my friend Ryan for showing me this, although he never meant to. Ryan is suffering from stage 4 GBM (brain cancer) and is no longer receiving treatment. He and I go out usually every week to grab a coffee and hang out, or just run a quick errand here and there. Our visits tend not to last very long, however, since Ryan’s condition often leads to what he calls “brain fatigue”, which is basically a sensory overload that makes it hard for him to concentrate. In order to try and make the most of our time together, we try to strategically avoid too much stimulation that would unnecessarily drain his energy. This has slowly opened my eyes to just how freaking noisy the world around us really is.
When I pick Ryan up, I make sure to turn off the radio. I turn down the blower in my car too because it makes a subtle ticking noise. If we go for coffee, we can usually get a good 45 minutes in of conversation. Yet I can’t help but notice the music over the speakers, the loud coffee grinder churning away, the sliding doors opening and closing constantly, and the clanging of grocery carts as a worker collects them in the foyer. Not to mention just the general noise of chatter and the hustle and bustle of people around us.
Wal-Mart is the absolute worst for this. We only go there if we have to. It is sensory overload to the max. Bright fluorescent lights, the sound of a few hundred shoppers, and colours and signs everywhere you look. Even the “fast” checkout is overload, with it’s 30 foot long racks of magazines, candy, and random trinkets. Then when you finally get near the front of the line, a loud computerized voice yells out, “Please go to cashier number 7!”. Once there, the cashier will scan your items one at a time. Have you ever bothered to listen to how loud that beep is? Even walking through the parking lot you are met with people all around pushing noisy carts across the bumpy pavement and cars with garbage mufflers circling around looking for parking spots.
As I’ve thought about this a little, it’s obvious we are inundated with noise at virtually every moment of every day. We consume hours worth of television, music, and cell phone apps/alerts/conversations from dawn to dusk. We go to work on a construction site with machinery banging all around, or in a bustling office with keyboards clicking and printers humming non-stop. No matter where we turn, our ears are pummelled relentlessly with vibrations both big and small that no doubt affect us more than we likely appreciate.
If you think you’re life isn’t very loud, just try sitting in a quiet place by yourself without doing anything. Do it for three minutes. After the first minute it will start to feel weird. You’ll begin to have the sense like you should be doing something or you need some “background noise” at the very least. It’s almost like we can’t function without noise. The world is noisy in general, but we exacerbate the problem by piling on. We would, like the Grinch, begin to cry out for the NOISE NOISE to stop, except that we’ve pretty much gotten used to it.
So what’s the big deal? Well, Scripture says that God speaks to us in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, NKJV). While God does sometimes shout to get our attention, and in the Bible he often speaks with a voice like thunder, it seems more common that God’s voice comes like a whisper in the moments of silence. If this is true, then we are probably not hearing much of God in our lives because there’s simply too much NOISE.
I have felt closest to God when I have a regular pattern of quiet time with the Lord, reading Scripture, praying, and quietly singing a song. When I neglect this practice and allow the noise of life to overwhelm me, I begin to lose the sense of intimacy with him. And no wonder! How am I supposed to hear the sound of his still, small voice when I won’t bother to turn down the volume and even listen?
Friends, we do ourselves a great disservice when we refuse to find moments of quiet with God. The hustle and bustle of life is inevitable, but will eventually lead to serious burnout and a lack of God’s voice in our lives if left unattended. We need to develop the habits of slowing down, unplugging from all the technology, putting our to-do list aside, and just sitting in a quiet place for no other reason than just to unwind and meet with God. Nothing re-charges the soul quite like being immersed in his presence. It’s simply too important for us to ignore.