I’m sitting on the southbound train, preparing for a full day of classes – like every Tuesday really. Only on commuter trains can there exist an entire cross-section of society. The construction worker beside the business tycoon beside the pensioner beside the bank clerk beside the young bloke just to my right watching Parks and Recreation whilst typing away on his phone.
For me, there’s something a little different about this journey. I’m in the quiet carriage, which is not of itself unusual. What is unusual is that I’m actually observing the silence. Normally, I’d be stuffing little black buds into my ears in order to drown out the deafening nothingness. Not today.
I’d rather fill my head with a pop song than reality. The images on the TV, the domestic dispute next door, the realities of life, that’s all too painful for me. Luckily for me – and for this generation – we have the capacity to carry our life soundtracks comfortably in a variety of futuristic metal designs. Have you ever stopped to think how unique your iPod really is? No-one else on the face of the planet would have exactly the same songs you have. A person’s iPod says a lot about them.
And their iPod habits say more.
Coupled with the glazed irritated facial expression I adopt this time of semester, mine says a firm “go away” to all who approach me. Unfortunately, I that’s what it’s saying to God too. How can God talk to me, unless I’m listening and how can I listen if my eyes are constantly plugged? No. I’m listening to Selah Sue and Regina Spektor far more than I’m listening to God. And that might be why I’m struggling to find purpose in life. Why I’m laying awake at night worrying. Why I’m passionless and disappointed. I’ve traded passion for pointlessness, encouragement for emptiness.
I don’t have a great quiet time regime, but at least I’m doing good things for God. That makes up for it, right? Unfortunately, no. A relationship is pointless without dialogue and effectively, by not keeping a regular quiet time, I am cutting this dialogue out of my life.
I’m afraid of silence, and I’m not alone.
In Luke 10:38-42, we read the account of two women – Mary and Martha – who are struggling with the same problem I am confronting. The first, Martha, is busily serving Jesus, using outward acts and God-given talents to display devotion. The other, Mary, is patiently listening to Jesus and being instructed by His personal attention to her.
Both show their love in different ways. The first through service, the second through quality time and presence. The problem emerges when one begins to see their display of love as more valuable than the other. When this happens, the second display is seen to be worthy of neglect in favour of the first. Effectively, according to Martha, service unto the Lord is more important than listening to Him! It cannot be underestimated that both are necessary in their appointed time and not to the detriment of the other.
Jesus chastises the servant-hearted Martha, not for her initial actions, but for losing sight of what is important. He confesses that given the circumstance, quality time will reap more benefit for the soul than empty servitude. This is because relationships show the value in the Eternal rather than the present physical concerns of this world – here today, and gone tomorrow. We cannot take things to Eternity, but we can – and should – take the people around us.
In our lives, programmes and activities have the potential to drown out relationships. We have a façade of connectedness with our mobile technology continually buzzing to life, as if that would affirm our social existence. It’s a shallow form of engagement. We are not involved in someone’s life simply because their family photos flash before us as we scroll through our morning newsfeed. We are not showing them how much we love them by simply liking the grumpy-cat meme they shared. That is not relationship.
We’re a vain society bent on instant gratification and unfortunately, many of us take that craving for immediacy into our relationship with God. We no longer know what it means to ‘wait on the Lord’. We busy our lives with a lot of activity to give the appearance that we’re furthering our community with God, but we’re really lying to ourselves. We have community with ourselves and call that our God – we have become our own gods!!
God’s not there if we don’t invite Him and He wants to be invited into our daily lives. He’s not content to be a backseat driver or even an automatic co-pilot. To be honest, I’ve come to a point in my journalistic career where I’m more than happy for God to pilot my life. I think He deserves that much and I trust Him with my life trajectory far more than I could possibly trust the economy, job security or my own personal skill set.
My favourite song has always been Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound Of Silence, but now I’m really learning to love the silence.
Yours patiently waiting on the Lord,