I recently went on a road-trip with a bus full of high school-ers, and was preparing myself for the worst. I expected having to thwart shenanigans for the next five hours and being surrounded by overwhelming decibels of noise. Five minutes into the trip, I paused from my conversation with my neighbor, because I was struck by how quiet the bus was. Thinking the kids must be up to something; I turned around to look at the bus full of kids sitting behind me, and was a little saddened by what I saw. About half the kids had plugged headphones and Air-Pods in their ears, the others were on their phones browsing their social media apps. Still others were taking selfies and videos of the environment/landscape around them- and once they had finished, immediately entered into editing the content and responding to comments online- absolutely removed from the exact environment they were posting about.
Now, I am not about to go on a rant about millennials, because honestly, this isn’t just a millennial issue. In today’s world it has become incredibly easy to slip into the noise and “activity” and “things” that are available on our phones and laptops, so we can stay “busy”, avoid awkwardness, and follow everyone who followed us, on your app of the day. We seem to prefer this constant background hum so much, that we now call this relaxing/unwinding.
In fact, when I am not mindful of my days, I can easily go months where I wake up to the radio or grab and scroll through my phone, as soon as I wake up. I can stay on my phone, as I get ready and grab breakfast. As I walk out the door, to my car for the morning trip to work, my car connects automatically to my phone’s bluetooth, and will begin playing my favorite podcasts or music until I reach work. When I get to work, my mind is pre-occupied with work but even during downtimes at work, I know of many co-workers who keep headphones on, to half-watch/half-listen to Youtube’s recommendations for the day, or take a break to watch Netflix or, check on their Insta/SnapChat/FB feeds. The evening commute back home means “catching up” on all the podcasts that downloaded over the day or catching up with JY/Church/Life errands. When I get home, I might choose to unwind by playing an episode on Netflix, which can turn into 5 episodes that I half-watch, as I respond to more messages, posts and emails. If I’m going out for the evening, every awkward lull in conversation can mean my hands reaching for my phone, to scroll and re-refresh the apps I looked at 10 mins ago. And on and on the cycle goes, until I reach the end of the day and do my examen, to feel quite accomplished from all the work I have gotten done that day.
It can take months before the lack of silence gets to me and I realize drastic measures as necessary. For me, this often means turning off my bluetooth and wi-fi, so I have no option but to enter into silence, during my work commutes or being present at the table, when I am sitting for dinner with friends. It almost seems funny, how as an adult, I don’t need to do any work to stay in the noise, and so much work to keep out of it!
But entering into silence and being present works, every time. I am oddly amazed by the amazing stories I hear, the hearts that are opened and the hope that is shared, when I choose to talk to the person next to me, rather than ignore them for my phone. And isn’t this what we all desire anyway? to be seen, to be chosen, to be listened to. Yet how quickly we allow a little discomfort, to override our own deep thirst for community. Perhaps this is why the more TV shows we watch about families and friends and the more Insta feeds we check on how others are living their lives, the lonelier we feel. Because we desire the community they seem to have, yet we’re not actually getting off our phones and going for it- we’re sitting on a couch watching others live it. We have learned to enter into a social and spiritual acedia, not allowing our hearts to be replenished by true good- and therefore only growing in our thirst and loneliness- when the solution is right in our reach; in fact it is your neighbor in the next seat or the same house as you.
Perhaps it is fear of silence that keeps us submerged in the noise, or perhaps it is us, beginning to believe the lie, that only in being needed or useful, are we truly worthy of being loved and treated with dignity. And so we run the rat race, over and over again, even within our spiritual lives- feeding that insecure lie. Silence and true community, on the other hand, shatters this lie. There is a reason why the Lord asked us to rest on the Sabbath; because in resting in the Lord, we can re-member our identity as His children. In His love, He shows us we don’t need to produce to be valued, we are treasured simply for who we are. We learn the same thing in community, in the company of friends & family, who love us despite our faults and weaknesses and thus re-affirm to us, our worth and value, in every interaction and conversation.
I believe it is the freedom of this truth, that frees the true creative in us. It is knowing the truth that we possess something beautiful, that allows us to release it without hesitation or need for compensation or approval from others. Some of the most recognized artists of our day, were never well known until their deaths. But the lack of compensation or appreciation of their talents, never seemed to stop them. They knew in their hearts what gems lay within, and they felt compelled to declare the truth to the world.
To be Continued….