[This was originally part of an introduction I was writing for a new book I’m working on. My direction is a little different now, so I’m posting it here, slightly modified, because I thought it was still good.]
My wife, Radene, is the most beautiful woman in my life. To me, she is the most attractive woman I know. Not only physically, but in every way. One of my goals in life is to bring her as much laughter and joy as I can bring because she has one of the most infectious laughs I have ever known. Someone can tell a joke that is only mildly funny to me, but if Radene thinks it’s funny, her laughter makes everything much funnier, much more jovial. I’ve had people tell me that they didn’t even think the joke was funny, but they laugh because Radene is laughing. That, among many other reasons, makes me one of the most fortunate men in the world. (How’s that for an opening paragraph?)
Because of the incredible fortune I have in my wife, I want to invest in our marriage and keep things healthy. One of the ways we do this is by trying to go on dates. We’re not always successful at doing this regularly, but we try. When we do go on dates, we usually at least go out to eat. Restaurants are one of our favorite things. But at one point they were an incredible distraction for me. See, I used to be one of those guys where if there was an active television, my attention got drawn away. It didn’t matter what was on. I remember eating dinner at a friend’s house one time. They had a rather large open floor layout where the kitchen, dining, and family room were all together in one space. My children were still pretty young, so while the adults sat at the table eating and talking, the kids were watching Spongebob Squarepants on a very large television. Sadly, four adults sat at the table, three of them were talking, and one of them was watching Spongebob. I was doing my best, but it was just pathetic.
So, I found myself at times incredibly distracted in restaurants because of televisions. I had this incredibly beautiful woman sitting across the table from me trying to make conversation, and I’m getting sucked into soccer on Univision – in Spanish nonetheless. What was the matter with me? That day while I was watching Univision I made a decision that I’ve been working on ever since. Television was no longer going to be the attention black hole that it had been in my life, especially on dates or any other kind of social engagement. There are even certain restaurants that I refuse to eat at because of the sheer number of televisions (ahem, Buffalo Wild Wings…). If I enter a restaurant without televisions, I sometimes thank them for not caving into that social pressure.
We are constantly assaulted by media. Restaurants aren’t the only villains. I’ve seen televisions popping up anywhere you might have to wait for something for more than five minutes. The assault on our senses by media has not only encroached on nearly every area of public and private life, it has also made us addicted. There’s almost a sense of loss that some people go through when they don’t find out about something at the same time as everyone else. So we watch. And whether it’s a television screen or an iPhone screen we find a sense of calm when our minds are being stimulated by constant information. Here’s a case and point.
Did I mention that Buffalo Wild Wings has lots of television screens? Recently I was speaking with a friend about my distaste for such restaurants. She went on to describe how her seventeen-year-old son was actually calmed by all the screens in Buffalo Wild Wings. She said she noticed that when they got settled in their seats, for the first time he was completely calm. No tapping of the fingers. No shaking of the legs. His eyes scanned all the screens in the room and all of his nervous energy simply vanished. He was at peace.
I know this young man. He’s a good kid. I know his parents. They don’t even have cable or satellite, just Netflix. It’s not a home environment thing. It’s an everything thing. Our entire culture is saturated. Even if you manage to keep most of the media bombardment out of your home, when you venture out into the public, there it is waiting to capture you.
But I don’t want to be unfair to the television industry: the smartphone’s star has also risen. According to the Pew Research Center1 two thirds of Americans now have a smartphone. Two out of three people in the United States have a small device in their pocket that screams for attention all day long. Television may still reign as king of our leisure time – on average two hours and forty-nine minutes every day2 – but I’ve witnessed many people watch TV and read Facebook on their smartphone at the same time. More television networks are making their content available on mobile devices. The smartphone, and whatever it will be in the future, has become the entertainment and news device of choice for a majority of Americans.
Full disclosure: I love my iPhone. And I hate my iPhone. I get ninety percent of my news updates from my iPhone. I do a large portion of my social media interactions on my iPhone. A lot of my family photos are taken with my iPhone. If I need to look up something or check facts, I look it up on my iPhone. My iPhone tracks my mileage from running. It also tracks my driving mileage. Were it not for the work I do with professional photography and video editing, I would probably not even need an actual computer. I cannot deny the usefulness of this little device that stays on my person or close by most of each day. However, I hate my dependence on this little handheld computer. I had a life before it. I was able to function before it. But now if I forget it at home, a certain awkwardness rises within.
What is wrong with me? I’m a grown adult and I have momentary separation anxiety when I realize I’m away from my iPhone. This makes me feel incredibly juvenile and weak minded. But nonetheless, it’s where I am. And I am not alone. Along with my young friend who is calmed by Buffalo Wild Wings and countless other adults and children, we have been hypnotized by the background noise of media.
Background noise . . . quiet. Quiet bothers us. I know many people who need the noise of a fan to fall asleep. Even in those tired moments, exhaustion isn’t enough to put us to sleep. The anxiety of quiet has to be drowned out by the whoosh of a fan. Why does quiet bother us? What is the source of this anxiety that arises when we are faced with silence?
God famously says in the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) In other words, getting quiet and still, ceasing from activity and silencing the background noise of life is part of how we come to know God. But here’s the dilemma. Knowing God deeper means facing the depth of your brokenness. And herein lies the reason we love our background noise. The noise keeps our minds off of what our real problems are. As long as I’m distracted with someone else’s bad news on the news channels, as long as the drama I’m reading on Facebook keeps my attention, as long as political rivals can keep my anger stoked, then all of the problems in life appear to be external, and in contrast I look and feel like a pretty good person.
Lies. Big lies. God is calling us to quiet the noise, know him better, and face the brokenness inside. I’ve been a believer since 1992. I still need to find quiet. As much as my lovely Radene is a great treasure, Jesus is a greater treasure. If I need to quiet the background noise on our dates so I can take in all the beauty of my wife, then how much more do I need to find silence and solitude so I can take in the beauty of Christ? The more beautiful I find Radene, the more astonished I am that she married me. The more beautiful I find Jesus, the more amazed I am that he saved me. I would never see that beauty if my attention were constantly pulled elsewhere. People of God, let’s learn some quiet and stillness. Intentionally create some space in your life where the background noise is brought to zero; where it’s just you and Jesus and the beauty of his grace to keep you company.