John Francis did not speak for seventeen years. The problem wasn’t with his voice but with his soul. As he explained, “I used words to hide from people, and from myself. . . . I decided not to speak for one day, as a kind of gift to my community. My girlfriend thought I was doing a nice thing. When I woke the next day, I didn’t see any reason to speak, so I didn’t.”
Over the coming years, Francis earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in environmental studies. During this time, he recalls, “I liked not speaking. It gave me peace.”
Seventeen years later, he began talking again when he felt he had something to say. However, he notes, “I still practice being silent every morning, and sometimes don’t speak for several days at a time. It reminds me to listen properly; not to judge what I think I’m hearing, but to try to understand what people are really saying.”
Most of us cannot abstain completely from talking, but we clearly need to do something about the information overload of our day. A study conducted eight years ago determined that the average person consumes 100,000 words every day. Since that time, social media has added another 54,000 words a day. Experts in the field refer to our condition as “infobesity.”
Media outlets produce so many words because we’re willing to consume them. And we consume them because we are empowered by the myth that knowing the news gives us control over the world.
These stories caught my eye this morning: A US military plane crashed yesterday afternoon into a field in Mississippi, killing at least sixteen people aboard. An American soldier has been arrested in Hawaii and charged with trying to support ISIS. And more than 6,000 firefighters are battling wildfires in California.
None of these stories affect me personally, but I read them nonetheless.
It’s a good thing to follow the news if we use what we learn for productive reasons. We can intercede for firefighters in California and the families of those killed in Mississippi. We can pray for ISIS followers to have dreams and visions of Jesus. We need to understand the culture if we are to influence the culture for God’s Kingdom.
But consuming media without a redemptive purpose can distract our souls. Silence is vital to intimacy with our Lord: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5). It is also essential to healthy relationships with each other: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13); “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).
Our Lord calls us to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Mother Teresa noted, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.” Francois Fenelon observed, “How rare it is to find a soul quiet enough to hear God speak.”
How quiet is your soul today?