We live in such a noisy world. Television, radio, the internet, games. It seems we’ve forgotten the value of quiet. Where do we even go to find it? Our homes are often just as loud, filled with all its baubles and trinkets to keep us entertained. There is a stark contrast between the sounds inside my home, and those outside, just a few steps out the back door. In the early morning, I can hear the birds chirping and singing in the trees. What a difference it makes to stop to listen, and yet, how often I don’t take the time. I forfeit the tranquil in favor of the frenzy.
That’s what it comes down to….I choose this. Again and again, though I know there is a better way. Though I know this way is not even good for me, or my family. Why?
Because I am hard-wired this way.
I am a product of my environment; shaped by the culture in which I live. We all are. The symptom is evidence of a deeper problem. The external fragmentation of focus reflects my inner friction; the constant buzz of a disquiet soul. It is a skill to develop a counter-cultural practice. Intentionality is required. I must unlearn old ways, open myself to new ones. Even with diligent, persistent effort, these changes will take time. And I am only willing to invest in something I truly value.
The book, Celebration of Discipline, is helping me reflect on this problem, and what is required of me to address it. The book’s author, Richard Foster, talks about the culture we live in. He says, “We live in a culture that does not value concentration. Distraction is the order of the day. Many will, for example, go through all the activities of the day and evening with the radio on. Some will read a book and watch TV at the same time. Most people find it virtually impossible to go through an entire day focused on a single thing. We are lesser for this dissipation of our energies”.
I got this book from the library. The person who had it before me made lots of pencil marks in it. The text is underlined and asterisked throughout; signifying that he or she must have deeply identified with its content. This has added to my reflection by drawing attention to these areas. Mercifully, more of it is getting in, despite my intake process being much like Foster describes. I read and watch TV. I read with Jamie tugging on my clothing, asking me “one more question”. I read over Chloe’s piano practice in the other room. When I stop to consider all the simultaneous noise competing with my reading, it is miraculous to discover anything sticking at all! The above quote was in the chapter about the discipline of study. Foster argues that concentration is required to study. Concentration centers the mind; focuses our thoughts and attention on the object of study. He emphasized this as one of a four step method (the steps: repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection). The mystery pencil-marker wrote something in the book on this page. I took a picture of it to show you:
In case you can’t make out the lightly penciled words, it says, “Stop multi-tasking”. Funny, right? This made me smile. It floated to my consciousness much like a message in a bottle drifting ashore. A timely SOS to my overstrained soul. This arrived just in time for vacation. We are leaving momentarily for the beach. I am determined not to take a trunk load of books and work; to spend my time listening quietly at the seashore for the Overseer of my Soul. The work can wait. My soul needs to find rest in God.
This thought reminded me of the familiar story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Martha is the busy one; driven to distraction. Mary, the contented one at Jesus’s feet, hanging on His every word. Martha is angered by this, “Tell her to help me, Jesus!” But instead, Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her”.
I think there is a Martha/Mary conflict inside every one of us. It’s the reality of our silence-seeking souls navigating a noisy world. Our Martha busyness undermines our deep Mary need for soul satisfaction in God. The term “multi-task” is derived from the computer engineering industry. Servers are designed to multi-task, souls are not. Hear Jesus on this – “Choose what is better”. Stop multi-tasking; only one thing is needed. The work can wait. The soul who learns to concentrate on God finds the quiet life that will never be taken. And this is an essential safeguard to surviving the noise.