Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting change. When I was a kid, life involved a great deal of waiting. The doctor’s office, the dentist’s office, government offices, lines at the bank all involved waiting. I have memories—some fond, others not so much—of trying to entertain myself in such places. This usually meant doing things that tried mom’s patience but with the challenge of going just far enough to have fun, and not far enough to earn the belt. I still see some of these places in my mind. Each seemed to have the same magazines, almost identical furniture and the almost palpable scent of boredom. In time, I learned to bring a book or something else to occupy my mind. I also learned that, at times, it was enjoyable to simply sit quietly and think—about life and other stuff. But things have changed.
For me, it started when I saw a TV at the head of a bank line. It was in Colorado Springs, so it was of course set to Fox News. The TV was muted, but had close captioning turned on. This way, people could turn their minds to the news while waiting in line. I’m sure the staff realized this made people more patient as they waited—they were distracted from the time it was taking for the line to move.
This was just the first step. Everywhere I go these days has a TV. It is usually turned onto some mindless drivel and loud enough to drown out the thoughts of anyone waiting. There was a time when you walked into a waiting room, every eye would turn to see you. Now when you enter such a space, every eye is locked onto the glowing box of distraction on the wall. No one looks away until their name is called. There is no desire to talk, to meet new people, to share each other’s lives. There is even less desire to simply sit and think.
Of course, the offices and other places which force us to wait are happy to provide this distraction. It keeps us from noticing just how much of our lives are being consumed in line and in waiting rooms. We are easier to deal with. When people are forced to sit quietly and think (heaven forbid), they get uncomfortable. We no longer want to spend time in our own minds. We no longer want to think, to consider, to wrestle with great truths. We want to be entertained day and night.
Recently, I was in such a waiting room and realized I forgot to bring a book. For some reason, there was no TV in the room and the magazines were not for my demographic. Having developed the same habit as many, I pulled out my phone to spend time on social media. Suddenly I found myself thinking about the trap I had fallen into. Like others, I had lost the enjoyment of simply sitting quietly and thinking—something I had once truly loved doing. Instead, I had to be entertained. I put away the phone.
When was the last time you put away the distractions? When was the last time you simply sat in solitude and silence? We need such times. This morning, while thinking about this I read the story of Elijah and his run from Jezebel. Elijah had been busy. He stood opposed to the evil King Ahab. He slew the prophets of Baal. He saw many miracles. But when threatened by the queen, he ran to the wilderness. The story in 1 Kings 19, tells us that in the wilderness the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Can you imagine God letting you know in this way that you are not where he wants you? Of course, being a human, Elijah sought to justify his flight. He claimed to be the only one in Israel who still worshipped God. Of course, he had to run, because if they killed him there would be no one to serve God. In Elijah’s mind, God’s interests in having someone to serve him and his own interests in staying alive meshed. He seems to have thought, “God needs me to live, so I have better run.”
God corrected him, but first showed him a fact about hearing. Standing upon a mountain, Elijah experienced several natural events: a great wind, and earthquake and a fire. But God was in none of them. Instead he heard a quiet whisper, through which God spoke. It’s interesting that the main thing he told Elijah was, “I have seven thousand others who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In other words, God told Elijah to stop believing his own assumptions and listen better.
How many of us face trouble in life and wish God would speak to us? It is a common plea: “Please God, just tell me what I should do.” I’m not going to say God will always—or even ever—speak directly to each and every need you have. However, I will tell you that begging God to speak and then filling every waking moment with the din of distraction is contradictory. In effect, we are saying, “I want God to speak, but don’t want to hear him if he does.” Doing this means we only hear God speak if he shouts. God shouts by shaking the mountain of your life. God shouts by blowing through your life to get your attention. God shouts by burning away the distractions. Don’t leave God no other option but to shout. Get quiet. Get away from the noise and din of life. Return to a regular time of quiet and silence. Regain an appreciation for being alone with God so he can whisper into your heart.