I was standing in a grocery store line yesterday behind a mother and a young boy, presumably her son, who looked like he was 10-12 years old. She was ragging on him about something, as she mindlessly emptied her cart for checkout. His attention was focused on his Android cell phone and the game he was playing. Then I noticed the back of his t-shirt. It read, “It’s not attention deficit. I’m just not listening!”
Kids have been ignoring their parents forever. But today—with all the cell phones, computers and other devices that feed noise and information to us intravenously 24/7—it’s increasingly difficult for all of us to pay attention. Look at this! React to that! Listen to me! No, ME! Pay attention over here! No, HERE! It’s not that we’ve all developed A.D.D. Rather, we, too, are tuning out more often, to keep our sanity.
Harvard researchers say city life in particular is mentally exhausting (and half the world’s population lives in cities). Juggling multiple stimuli uses up the brain’s processing power, resulting in what neuroscientists call “directed attention fatigue.” As it worsens, judgment is impaired and we feel increasingly stressed. Sound familiar?
Thankfully, they say there are things we can do to restore our brains–like spending 20 minutes in a city park or getting away to any quiet environment so the brain’s attention circuits can refresh and recover the resilience needed to jump back into the fray.
Suddenly God’s idea for a Sabbath rest once a week makes more sense, along with other reminders like”Be still and know that I am God.“ They’re not just God Rules to cramp our style. They’re operating instructions from the creator of our brain. He knows how we’re wired and that our circuits can overload. He wants us to finish well and knows we won’t, if we don’t build some margin into our lives.
It’s not about taking a vacation. Vacations can be more high voltage than daily life. We need quiet. Maybe that’s the problem. Quiet can be a scary place if you’ve never been there.
This week I conducted a random survey of a dozen people to ask how comfortable they were with silence. Several people felt they didn’t need it and didn’t have time to invest in something with no immediately measurable outcome.
I wonder if the real issue is a fear of sitting alone with God, without an agenda. Most people are comfortable with silence only in their most intimate relationships. Are you and God in an intimate relationship, the kind that doesn’t require words?
More than once when I’ve tried to create a quiet space in my own day, my mind starts scrolling through my To Do list and I catch myself praying frantic prayers that end in, “God, are you listening?” I picture God saying, “I’m listening. Would you like to listen for awhile?” Stilling ourselves takes practice.
When we sit in silence in God’s presence, we get a truer picture of who we are in the grand scheme of things. It makes room for new information about ourselves, our lives and our relationship with Him. We learn to more easily recognize that small inner voice that’s different from ours, the voice that speaks peace and comfort and hope into our weary souls. We realize it’s Him! He’s been there all along but we couldn’t hear Him above the din.
Withdrawing from our addiction to words and noise may also bring us face-to-face with fears we’ve been trying to outrun or the things about ourselves we really don’t want to face. It’s okay. We’re safe. We’re experiencing intimacy with the one Person in the universe whose words always bring life. No attention deficit required to protect our sanity. We can happily hang on His every word.