I had a few hours between flights and the airport was almost deserted. A quiet spot and comfortable chair beckoned me. There was even a bonus: a plug-in to charge my cell phone! Dropping my backpack into the adjoining chair, I unzipped it and pulled out my yellow pad and pen, preparing to write a bit.
As I started to gather my thoughts, music from overhead speakers butted in. Voices, drums, and guitars assaulted the quiet, making thinking impossible. “Till your world burns and crashes, Till you’re at the end, the end of your rope, Till you’re standing in my shoes, I don’t wanna hear nothing from you From you, from you, cause you don’t know.” One singer after the next wailed on and on about lost love and unfaithfulness. “I put your picture away ‘cause I’m lying next to him.” “I can’t go on.” “You just have to wait.” The depressing lyrics pumped into my brain. The relentless strumming was an angry child throwing a tantrum between my ears. Ironically, every other song was interspersed with a recording reminding the listener that this was the blessing of ad-free music! (The repetitive announcement was worse than the ads.) I remembered sitting in the Las Vegas airport some years ago with a ruckus that made this music positively saintly. The halls and waiting rooms of that Nevada airport were crammed with slot machines and other gambling games, creating a cacophony of beeping and chiming that occasionally was interrupted by sultry female voices inviting anyone within listening distance to a sure-to-win gaming experience. In that airport—as well as another—I wished for ear plugs.
It’s one thing to be held hostage to unwelcome music in a public place. It’s another to willingly submit to constant noise and music day after day and month after month. The TV is always on. Music is always playing. Newscasts drone their unremitting opinions. Computers chirp. Cell phones ding. IPad games talk and beep. Have we grown so used to constant audio and visual stimulation that we no longer remember how to or want to carry on a conversation in a quiet room? It’s as though real people—or even God—are boring and so we prefer digital companionship. I think that some people never experience silence. It seems that silence scares us with its unwelcome invitation to think or experience nature without musical accompaniment.
It takes silence to learn who you are.
When you are silent you can get in touch with your inner self. If you are always listening to other people’s ideas, how will you know what you believe? Lyrics of songs are life philosophies and outlooks. Play them often and long enough and they become your philosophy and outlook. Consistent reading of newsbytes and listening to info-bits suspends your own thought processes with predigested information. (But that’s another tempting subject I will not pursue at the moment.)
It can be intimidating to unplug, turn off, and think. However, unless we have silence, we often do not ask the big, important questions which, left unanswered, keep us from personal peace and emotional homeostasis. Who are you? What kind of personality do you have? What do you believe and why? How does God figure into your life? How connected are you to your family and why? Do you like your work? Why do you choose the things you choose? What thoughts run through your mind? What attitudes color your choices? Which experiences hold you hostage and still poison your hope?
It takes silence to get in tune with our world.
Contemplating the natural world opens our minds and hearts to incredible insight and discovery. Quiet observation and reflection reveal God’s genius and the innumerable patterns of the sky and sea. Those who discovered gravity—and a thousand other things–spent long hours quietly paying attention to nature. But even those of us with no scientific intention can benefit from learning the gentle come and go of the seasons and the ways of the butterfly and dolphin.
The sounds of nature will enchant you. Ocean waves sweep up the shore scattering pebbles and foaming upon the sand. A dancing campfire crackles and hisses as it casts flickering orange light across your face. Great trees bend before the wind, their leaves whispering of autumn. A mockingbird’s silver song echoes through the clear morning air.
The beauty of our world will mesmerize you. Warm turquoise waters shelter brilliant tropical fish among the undulating sea fans. Sunflower seeds grow in intricate precision and design even if no one sees them. The tiny feathers of hummingbirds and the minute scales of butterfly wings glitter neon colors in the sunlight. The moon pulls vast oceans as they ebb and flow in ageless rhythms. From the fireflies twinkling over the soybean fields of Indiana to the aurora borealis swirling fantastic colors over Alaska and Finland, our world spills over with exquisiteness and wonder.
Can’t you feel the frantic pace of life disappear just thinking about it? Only those who commit themselves to observe without interruption will learn the calming serenities of nature.
It takes silence to hear God’s voice.
Meditation and contemplation are time-honored ways to still your soul and discern God’s voice. We pay an enormous price for the never-ending, frenetic lifestyles we lead. Today’s social media are hypnotizing and addicting. Just try to find a crowd in which at least 90% are not glued to their cell phones. Everywhere you go, in every household, school, and event, cell phones rule. Now I choose to have a cell phone and I truly love the way I can connect with my children and grandchildren who never use e-mail anymore and don’t even know what a letter is. Minutes after it’s happened I can see my grandson, Caleb, hit a line drive, courtesy of the wizardry of cyberspace. I played computer games for a while until, thankfully, dry eyes put a stop to watching a screen for more than a few minutes. Only then did I realize how much time of every day had been consumed by trivia. Suddenly I had time for for reading, observing, writing, and contemplation. When we choose to be in touch with everything and everyone we choose to abandon God. We might deny it, even be shocked by the idea of it, but the truth is that you cannot be in touch with God without silence.
I’m thankful that there are an increasing number of people demanding that their kids not use cell phones at home, period. Family survival depends on real conversation, not texting that dinner is ready.
How much more must be unplug ourselves and spend time with God.
If anyone needed to hear God, it was the prophet Elijah. Jezebel was intent on killing him and he was emotionally distraught and running for his life. In fact, he was begging to die when a huge storm swept in. “…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper….‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” It was God.
Put down your cell phone or tablet. Walk outside and look up, not down at your screen. Begin looking and listening for the divine. If this is new to you, be prepared to wait. We will have to train ourselves to recognize His voice. It is not surprising that heartbreak often sharpens our receptiveness to the divine. Cancer, job loss, divorce, and the death of those nearest to us stop the clock of routine. We are suddenly all ears and eyes, wondering what will happen, who will take care of us, or what course of action we should take. Calamity abruptly jerks us awake and we see life’s true priorities in high relief. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for tragedy to do this. We can learn to lay aside the superficial and become conversant with the eternal. This quest is quite possibly the most important you will ever take.
 1 Kings 19 (NLT)
David Shultz enjoys mountain views in Arizona where he lives with his wife and two dogs, Molly and Maggie.