Two years ago this week we closed on our home here in Norfolk. I loved the house we had found with its quirky layout, huge front porch and large mudroom, but I didn’t want to live here. We had been hoping for an assignment in Hawaii or San Diego, but that didn’t pan out so we found ourselves setting up life in what many had called ‘the armpit of the Navy’.
That’s not exactly the kind of description you want to hear about your new city. But I had listened to their comments and while I learned my way around town I would grumble. The traffic is so bad. The highway is busy. It’s loud in the city and people park on the street blocking the front of our house. The Bay is so gross with its brown sand, smelly public restrooms and trash scattered on the shore. How can they call this a beach when there aren’t even any waves.
Norfolk didn’t stand a chance in my opinion and it was mostly due to the fact that my ideas had been shaped by the comments and attitudes of others. My mind was fixed on the noise around me and I was unable to appreciate the newness of my surroundings.
The voice inside my head had been drowned out by the voice of the world.
We are constantly being bombarded with information on every topic, from every point of view, and in a way that makes us feel like we need to keep up with it all. I find that everything that enters my mind makes it difficult to know where to land. We want answers to our questions, advice on how to live life, which side of current issues to stand on and practical steps for parenting, marriage, eating habits, and a host of other issues. We’re desperate for knowledge but I fear we might be looking for it in all the wrong places.
My mind has been so distracted lately by all that I see and hear. I scroll through my social media feeds and can’t stop because I need to read this article and see that conversation thread. And even if I disagree or haven’t quite been able to form my own opinion yet, the voices that shouted at me continue when I walk away and it’s hard to shut them out. TV shows, movies, podcasts, books, blog posts–good things in their own way–fill my mind and soul with more information than any human soul can fully digest. I get caught up in my own ideas and dreams or my fears and anxiety. Friends and family members are hurting, my community is in need and I want to swoop in and help them all. These are not all bad things but the amount of noise in your head can affect your ability to focus on what is most important or what is right in front of you.
Perhaps I’m missing the way.
When I focus on all of this noise–even the good parts–without meaning to I start to shut out the voice of God. And when I shut out the voice of God my soul feels empty, lost and confused.
This is not the way I want to live my life. I want the voice of God to be the loudest one that I hear.
In my current state of distraction I have found that the practice of four things is helping to keep my heart tuned into the voice of God. Maybe these will be helpful for you in your own journey.
Reading the Bible. Opening my Bible at the beginning of the day renews my mind, gives me direction and fills me with the right kind of knowledge. If you’re having trouble knowing where to land in these confusing times, land in the truth. Start there and come back there when the waters get muddy and rough in the world. It might feel like a chore at first, but consistent time with the Lord in His Word will eventually become a delight, even a necessity.
Corporate worship. Several times over the past few months I’ve had to fight the temptation to avoid church. I have sat in the pew asking God for understanding and peace; he has granted my request. This often looks like conviction of my own sin and a reminder of my desperate need for the gospel. Singing praises to God, engaging in conversations about how to live out the gospel, and hearing the preaching of God’s Word all work to shift my mind away from trying to figure out what’s happening in the world toward what is most important. The ways that I might differ from fellow believers fade as we lift our voices together to worship God and seek to serve him. I always leave refreshed and with a renewed sense of unity because of our common bond in Christ.
Listening to good music. For someone who loves music you’d be surprised at how little I actually listen to it. I have yet to download any music on my phone, I’m not sure exactly what Spotify is, and I’ve never used itunes. But, I downloaded Pandora and I’ve been keeping music on while I work around the house and the kids do their homework. My favorite stations are Sovereign Grace and Ellie Holcomb, sometimes Phil Whickham or Matt Maher. It’s amazing how the words of truth put to music help to clear my mind and keep me fixed on Jesus.
Limiting and carefully selecting my information intake. I love to read, watch shows on Netflix, and I appreciate social media, but I’ve had to dial it way back. My soul gets numbed by the mindlessness of entertainment, my head gets way too caught up in a story, and the endless scroll of my news feed on Facebook was negatively affecting my soul. I’m cutting out novels–for a time, I’m trying to stay away from watching TV at night, I am reading the actual news instead of Facebook, and it has helped tremendously. Please, don’t hear me saying that you have to do these things. I’m not trying to set rules, but we know ourselves and when we pay attention to the things that have negative affects on our souls, there will probably be ways we need to change.
This week I’ve been reflecting on the past two years of our life in Norfolk. We might be moving by the end of 2017, and for as much as I grumbled when we got here, I don’t want to leave. As I spent time in our city and embraced our life here, the voice of the naysayers was quieted and Norfolk became beautiful. The beach is my favorite place to spend time. The street sweeper that comes by once a month is now a comforting noise. Traffic doesn’t bother me and I’ve come to appreciate the fact that I can walk to the hardware store, a convenience store for milk (and ice cream), and our public library is a little over a mile away.
It might take time to tune out the voice of the world in order to better hear the voice of God. But it’s worth the effort. The knowledge that comes from listening to the voice of God will help you to discern the right way. His voice is one that is sure, steadfast, true, and it’s the only voice that will bring lasting life to your soul.