This is a chapter from my upcoming book, Don’t Eat the Cat Food!
“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” – George Washington Carver
Being still and quiet is getting harder and harder to do in our world. We are besieged on every side by noise. Not just sounds; it’s also the “busy-ness” of life. We let this happen to us; although we might play the “victim” card sometimes, we live this way because we choose to. I’m no psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but I do know myself. I notice that, sometimes, my life is programmed to the minute. There’s always “one more”: one more meeting; one more event to attend; one more job to do. And I will admit: a lot of it could be done by somebody else; no one is indispensable.
A few years ago, I took a look around and realized I was too busy. At the time, I was serving on three different boards, was volunteering with the local scout troop, and would always stick my hand up when someone asked for volunteers. (And all of that was in addition to serving at church). I would often get home late, exhausted. I wanted to be that guy; the one you could count on, the one who showed up. Deep down, I guess I was looking for validation, for someone to punch my ticket, pat me on the back and tell me they appreciated me.
But in reality, all that busy-ness did for me was to exhaust me. You may notice that the list I just made didn’t include time with my wife and boys. By the time I got home from work or some meeting or other, there was precious little of me left. And honestly, trying to do all of those things just spread me too thin. In reality, every person and every cause I loved was getting short-changed, because I just didn’t have the time or resources to devote my full attention to any of them.
But once I had realized I had a problem, I dealt with it. I started learning how to say “no”. I made a decision that I would try to leave work at work, and not work late unless there was absolutely no other way. I would try to make time to spend with my family. Sometimes, I didn’t — still don’t — hit the mark. But I was trying.
Remember when we talked about the wall we build up, or the city lights? Busy-ness is another obstacle. By filling our lives with constant noise, we can’t hear our own voice, much less anyone else’s, and most importantly, God’s.
Do you recall in Scripture that even Jesus had to get away from it all sometimes? Often, the demands of ministry were just overwhelming, and he had to make time to get away. For example, in Matthew 14:22, Mark 6:45, Luke 4:42, John 6:15, the gospels note that there were always crowds of people following Jesus, and he had to take time to meditate and pray.
A lot of famous leaders have found that they can only be creative when they are alone. Anne Frank noted, “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”
We spend a lot of time running around trying to please God. It’s easy to think we’re making a difference with all this frenetic activity, but in reality, we must look pretty silly. God didn’t call us to run around looking for something to do; he called us to watch, listen, learn and respond to his call. Years ago, I heard someone turn an often-used phrase on its head, and it stuck with me: Don’t just do something; stand there! A little research indicates this saying has a murky past, and trying to find out who said it first is difficult. It’s been attributed to people like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clint Eastwood and others. But it’s really a powerful directive; what if, instead of trying to “make yourself useful”, you tried to “make yourself quiet?”
When was the last time you stopped, went to a quiet place where you could truly be alone with your thoughts, and just listened? For me, I like to visit my old family home place, which is away from my daily life. I like to get out by myself and just be. There’s no pressure, no phone, no email, no sounds except the whisper of wind in the pines and the distant hum of traffic on the highway, the gentle breeze and the smells of nature.
It’s in these times when I find I can focus, re-center and think about God, and find myself in his presence. But if we’re to really perceive God’s presence, we have to cut out the clutter in all our senses. Since ancient times, people have commonly believed we have five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. But recently, science has suggested we actually have many more senses than those. In addition to the five named above, we have the sense of balance, temperature perception, pain, and something called Proprioception (defined as “body awareness”; this is how we know somebody has entered our “personal space”). And this is actually a short list. The very concept of senses is hard to define. For example, the senses of taste and smell are closely related, and it’s hard to determine where one begins and the other ends.
But regardless of how many senses we actually have, it’s important for us to shut out as much of the clutter as we can, so we can become more attuned to the presence of our Creator. And it’s not just sensations that bombard us; the very complexity of our lives can do that, too.