We live on an awfully loud planet. It only grows louder with the population—louder still as people blast their stereos, talk on cell phones, play their podcasts, and rev their engines. Our world is not filled with communication so much as it is filled with (often pointless) noise.
It seems that most people despise silence. I’ve had friends tell me they hate to study in the library because it’s too quiet. Students are so used to studying with the TV on, or music playing, or studying over the clamor of a large and vocal family. We’re attached to gadgetry by virtual umbilical cords, unable to last a second without a video, a newscast, or a song. People have even started putting their cell phones on speaker mode so that passers-by are blessed with both halves of the conversation. People can’t stand solitude because there’s no one around to fill the air with noise.
Even when all gadgetry is out of commission, people still feel the need to fill their lives with noise. I’m not saying conversation is a bad thing—not in the slightest. There are few things more enriching than a productive, wholesome conversation. But that’s the thing: real conversations are nearly extinct. People speak in generalities, in complaints, in whines, or tune out the other speaker so they can dwell on the next triviality that will come pouring out of his or her mouth. I know because I so often am guilty of this very thing.
Real communication—people connecting in deep and meaningful ways with other people—is vanishing.
A friend and I once toyed with the idea of going to a campus meal and spending the whole dinner communicating with only nonverbals: gestures, eyebrow raisings and lowerings, smiles and frowns. The experiment would show just how effectively and concisely we could communicate without using noise or superfluous language. We have yet to try this, but I still think it’s a good idea. We had discovered that we had known each other long enough that nonverbals were often all we used anyway, so we figured using them deliberately was a fair goal.
My best friend and I only resort to talking when we absolutely have to. Usually this happens in the event of a funny story involving some mutual acquaintance or catching each other up on the particulars of our lives. But after a certain point in the conversation, words become unnecessary. We have enough mutual respect and love for each other that we don’t feel the need to speak and impress each other with a fountain of words. We find security in silence.
Pondering on this point reminds me of an interesting truth about God. He loves silence. Yes, He made the chattering birds and the roaring sea waves, and of course He is responsible for the wonderful gift of human speech. But how often in scripture does He beg us to “be still”? The Psalms are full of references to King David praying in the stillness of night, when he was sure not to be interrupted. In the book of I Kings, the prophet Elijah did not hear the voice of God in the earthquake’s roar or the thunder’s rumbling. Rather, he heard it in God’s own still, small voice.
This world hates God. Its people hate Him more and more with every passing year. No wonder, then, that the world grows noisier and noisier. They want to tune Him out. With all the noise in their hearts and heads, it is impossible to hear Him.
But He will be heard. And He asks us to be still; to listen with all our hearts and souls and minds as well as with our ears. There is sweetness in the silence that is filled with the presence of God.