A couple of weeks ago, I was on carpool duty for summer camp. So I had my 7-year-old son, my 4-year-old son, and then two spare 7-year old boys in the back of my car as we drove to pirate camp. One, um, interesting thing about San Diego is the way you have to get on at least two highways to get anywhere. I grew up in a place where getting on a highway was more of a special event, so merging on and off all of those crowded freeways seems to require a little more concentration for me. My boys normally know better than to try to hand me their trash or ask for a snack or a water bottle or for a different song when Mommy is getting on the highway!
Yet that morning, it sounded like I had not 4 but 40 kids in the back. They were singing a pirate song and laughing crazily and arguing about Minecraft apps, and my four-year-old was trying to talk over all of them in his usual effort to get some attention. The decibel level was somewhere around punk rock front row. It seemed quite possible that my head might explode all over the steering wheel just like the watermelon in the Fruit Ninja game we had just played at the dentist’s office.
I’m happy to report that we got on and off the freeway successfully and made it to pirate camp just fine. And then when the three pirates exited the vehicle, and it was just my younger son and me, the silence descended on us like a calming blanket. Better than a spa. And I think he enjoyed it as much as I did.
I’m always looking for ways to have a little more quiet in my life. Silence was one of the things I most wanted to cultivate when I was writing my book Mom Seeks God.
I felt like my whole life was filled with too much sound–yelling and laughing and beeping and music and traffic and sirens, and even that the noise was a little bit out of my control–like I was just a helpless victim, the mom help captive by the noisy pirates.
When I examined my life a little more closely, though, it turned out I was making a lot of the noise–turning on the radio every time I cooked or washed dishes, turning on the TV at night when I folded clothes. And a lot of the noise was from so-called silent media–books, newspapers, magazines, status updates and texts, a barrage of noise coming in via my smartphone. It was only rarely that I turned away from it all for a few minutes of quiet to reflect or contemplate or listen for God’s voice.
So what I did was to try to turn things off–the radio, the tablet, and even the books and magazines and Facebook posts and texts that could be so noisy. One of the most effective changes I made was to just drive in silence-no music, no radio–whenever possible. I loved the way this helped me feel calmer and more peaceful and also the unexpected places God started directing my thoughts when I opened up the space.
At first I really only did this on those brief times when I was in the car by myself–on the way to pick them up somewhere or running out for a quick errand, but I realized my boys liked the quiet in the car too. So I started asking them before I turned the radio on. “Do you want to have quiet?” It surprised me how often they said yes. They enjoyed having some quiet too.
Another mom told me she noticed the same thing when she tried to add some more times of silence to her life after reading my book. When she picked up her son after school, instead of peppering him with questions about his day or turning on NPR, she suggested that they have a time together of silence in the car. She soon found that he liked it even more than she did. I imagine after a full day of school or practice and being around other people all that time, it was nice to just have the space to think. And when his mom started to transition back by turning the radio back on or speaking, he was the one to remind her, “Hey, Mom, what about our silence?”
I think this is an area in which we can really help our children.
There’s so little space for silence in our world today, even less for our children than when we were their ages. Sometimes we do have to make a bit of an effort to create it and to demonstrate it for our children.
Let them see you washing the dishes in silence. Better yet, wash the dishes together without any music or radio or TV and don’t feel compelled to fill in the silence. I find that, even as young as my boys are, sometimes just waiting for them to share is a more effective way of getting them to share with me than asking them a lot of questions. (Not to say that I don’t ever resort to the lots-of-questions technique!)
It isn’t always easy, of course, to figure out a way to turn everything off in the course of your usual routine, at least not without a lot of complaints from everyone involved. The past few days we’ve been lucky enough to have had everything turned off for us, while we spent some time up at a family cabin where there is no cell service or wi-fi or TV. And at first, I was a little nervous about being so disconnected. Then about five minutes later, I was so happy to have no smartphone in my hand, no constant interruptions, and very little noise. I could just watch the boys talk to the chipmunks and throw rocks in the lake, look at the view instead of at a screen, listen to…well, not much. The boys’ voices and the birds, that’s about it. My ears felt like they were re-calibrating back to their original settings. Today I found myself a little nervous about re-connecting, after getting used to that digital silence.
As lots of people have discovered before me, it takes getting away from all that noise to realize how exhausting it really is. A family member who also comes up to our cabin refers to it as “digital detox.”
I like that. Digital detox sets my mind on all kinds of paths–from gratitude to God for all my blessings, starting with my family; to new ideas for books and articles and a re-evaluation of the things that are important in life.
And I love being reminded how my boys really only need rocks and dirt for toys.
When we get home, I’m going to start thinking of ways to bring more digital detox into my life and with it, more silence.
What about you? How do you digitally detox or find silence in your day? And how do you experience God when you do?