Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.—Matthew 4:1
I can’t imagine the silence of the desert. In fact, I can’t really imagine silence at all. Let me tell you about my typical day:
- I wake in the morning and scroll through my phone while I chat with my wife.
- As she gets ready for work, I’ll turn the news on and keep staring at my phone.
- When she leaves, I will walk upstairs, put on some music and start writing.
- As I write, I fight a losing battle to drift around the internet and comb through social media platforms.
- Eventually I take a break, make something to eat, and watch the news—or maybe a Netflix show.
- I go back to writing while listening to music or a podcast.
- If I go anywhere, I’ll listen to music in the car.
- Sometimes I will make dinner while listening to music in the kitchen.
- Maybe I will go to the gym and listen to a sermon or a playlist.
- I’ll come home and kick it in front of the TV with the Mrs.
- We’ll go to bed and I will watch a little Netflix, and pray a little before I pass out.
- Wash, rinse, repeat . . .
I’m not even remotely kidding. And as ashamed as I am to write that, I don’t imagine that I’m alone.
Drowning in stimulus
When I hear someone in the church decrying modern culture, they’re usually railing about its decadence and sin. It’s as if the world is a bowl of grapes, some of which are rotten. If we could just remove the bad ones, we could gorge ourselves on the rest without any repercussions. But what if we’re looking at it all wrong?
The biggest problem we might have in our culture might not be the presence of “bad” stuff; it might be the mistaken idea that we can regularly indulge in the “good” without limit or boundary.
I cannot begin to fathom that there was a time, not too long ago, where people would go out in the fields or factory to work and it was just them and their thoughts. I’m surprised I can think as well as I do as completely overstimulated as I am. It’s like my thoughts are dandelions that have to fight their way up through the cacophonous concrete around me.
We’re a culture that can’t sit quietly in a room with nothing to do. With the world around us is on fire with noise, information, and the opinions of others, we’re systematically destroying our attention span. There’s too much to do, see, and comment upon.
Tempted in the desert
I’ve been blogging my way through Matthew, and I wasn’t prepared for my reaction to the way the fourth chapter starts. I mean, sure, I’ve read it about a million times—but it really hit me this time.
The spirit drove Jesus out into the desert to be tested. Why? Why in the world would he do that? Was it just so loud in town with all the cars, air conditioners, and portable stereos? Was it just so stinking loud that he just had to get out of town to hear himself think?
That’s when it hit me. Jesus didn’t have a quarter of the stimulation that we do, and his testing required self-denial, focus, determination, and solitude. I’m being tested all the time, and I am trying to pull off a victory with about 1/12 of my capacity and focus.
It’s no wonder I fail so often.
It’s like I’m Elijah, burned out and despondent looking for God in the chaos of my life (1 Kings 19). But he’s not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire—he’s in this quiet, persistent whisper deep in my heart that I can never quite hear or discern.
Embracing the silence
In his book Silence, Fr. Ambrose Wathen says:
“The present age is recognized by many as an age of noise. Modern communication media have made it possible for man to enjoy sound whenever he desires and wherever he may be. . . . it has been observed that noise has had an influence on blood pressure, circulation, and nervous disorders.”
Is it possible that our diminished capacity to sit quietly in a room is making us physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally ill? I’m beginning to think it is.
We don’t just need a Lenton break from social media, we need to intentionally fast from the our constant need for stimulus, approval, and an outlet to express every opinion we have. As Richard Foster tells us in Celebration of the Disciplines, “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”
This troubles me because, while our culture seems to be creating more and more intelligent and gifted people, deep ones seem to be in short supply.
Carving out the room for quiet
In a church culture that elevates catch phrases and microwaved wisdom, Maybe there’s no demand for thoughtful prudence. But wisdom just might be required for people who want to resemble Jesus. And I just don’t think we can draw wisdom from deep wells without solitude, quiet, and self-denial. It’s time to make silence a priority.
Because right now the Spirit could drive me out into the desert, and I would only stay until my phone died.