We live in a noisy age. It seems that everywhere we go, noise fills the pauses and even runs constantly in the background. In stores and restaurants, the music is constant and often quite loud. (How do people carry on any kind of meaningful conversation in those places?) In the elevator, there’s music—that’s even an official genre, apparently. Go to a professional sporting event, and every pause in the action is filled with the output of the stadium’s DJ. I’m told that what he’s playing is allegedly music. When you get into your car, you automatically reach over and turn on the radio, to fill your environment with music or, worse, people talking—people who quite clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.
I know I sound cynical. I’m not. But I do want to make a point.
Human beings need quiet as certainly as they need exercise. We need time to think, to reflect, to evaluate. To pray.
I’ve noticed that in many of the students I teach, quiet is disturbing. Too quiet. Distracting. Even our library has loosened up on the stereotypical quiet rules as an accommodation to the students’ professed need for background noise—think Starbucks—in order to study.
Our lives are often noisy in ways other than decibels. Many of us pride ourselves on how busy we are, how little time we have. That means, you see, that we’re important, that we’re making a difference. I’m busier than you.
Nyah, nyah, nyah.
My friends, these things ought not so to be.
Now, I know that sometimes we’re unavoidably busy. Some people have to work 3 jobs in order to pay for school. Some people have bedridden relatives or friends, and there’s nobody to share the burden. For most of us, there are seasons of life when we’re simply busier than normal and we have to just grit our teeth and try to get it all done without dying of exhaustion.
But busyness is not a lifestyle we are meant to choose.
We need quiet. Time to think. Time to meditate.
Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still (Ps 4.4).
Meditation isn’t emptying your mind, after the fashion of the Eastern religions. When you empty your mind, it’s like leaving your wallet sitting on the sidewalk; somebody bent on mischief is likely to show up.
In the Bible, meditation is focusing your mind on something and giving it your investigative consideration, turning it over and savoring it as you would good food. My colleague Jim Berg says that if you can worry, you know how to meditate; meditation is just the process of worrying without the pathological aspects.
So what should you focus your mind on? The Bible gives at least 3 legitimate topics:
- Meditate on God himself (Ps 63.6). Who is he? What is he like? What do those attributes say about how you should think, feel, and live?
- Meditate on God’s works (Ps 77.12; 143.5). What has God done? What is he doing today? What will he do in the future? What do those actions say about how you should think, feel, and live?
- Meditate on God’s Word (Josh 1.8; Ps 1.2; 119.15, 23, 97, 99, 148). What has God said? What do those words say about how you should think, feel, and live?
I note that in order to meditate on God’s Word, you really have to have it in your head. You can’t think about something that isn’t there. I’ve written on that topic before; if you find the prospect of life-changing meditation appealing, that post might be worth reading again.
Recently I’ve been consciously not turning on the radio when I’m alone in the car. It’s a great opportunity to think, to muse, to meditate. I’ve also been cutting out late-night activities so that I can get enough sleep and still get up earlier, when the house is quiet.
There are lots of demands on us, and they deserve our attention and care. But most of us don’t need to be as busy as we are. Maybe we can’t be philosophers sitting on mountaintops or monks chanting in the abbey—in fact, we’re probably a lot more useful as we are—but we can be more thoughtful, more reasoned, more contemplative.
More quiet, to a useful end.