Though over twenty years old, the sixth generation Honda Civic can still be found everywhere on the roads of America today. Prized for its fuel economy, reliability and ability to provide basic transportation on a budget, these cars are long-lasting and also highly desired by young people who like to outfit them with outlandish rear spoilers and booming exhaust systems.
Not the example found in my driveway, though. Our 1998 version is bare-bones, equipped with just an air conditioner and 3 functional speakers, a radio that barely works, and two hundred thousand miles. I own half of the car, as my teenage son is working hard to buy it from me so that he can cruise the streets of Augusta in his hardly classy ride.
About half of my driving takes place in this little car. And in those miles I have learned a valuable lesson about the beautiful sound of quiet. As I mentioned, the car has a stock radio, but it barely picks up any stations. There is no CD player and no AUX input. Any attempt at having music accompaniment in the car results in static which results in me turning the system off and being forced to listen to wind and birds and nothing. In this listening I sometimes begin to hear things that are really worth being heard.
The entire book of the Old Testament book of Proverbs can be summed up in one word: Listen. There are hundreds of exhortations in those pages on the subject of speech, and you’ll find more about when not to talk than you’d believe.
One example is 10:19, “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”
Wise words are described as choice silver, implying that when a person chooses what to say rather than blurting out the first thing that occurs to them in each situation, the recipient of that speech is blessed. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, it says elsewhere.
These ideas apply to our relationship with God also. Ecclesiastes chapter 5 says “When you meet with God, don’t talk – listen!”
The lesson here is that turning down all the noise around us, including the deluge of not-so-necessary words that come from our own mouths, can create a space in which we can hear others and hear God. It allows the presence of God’s peace to invade a moment or a conversation and make it sacred.
One of my favorite authors, the late Henri Nouwen, says this: “It is a good discipline to wonder in each new situation if people would be better served by our silence than by our words.”
Another quote I’ve memorized from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Thus it must be the decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that each individual not say everything that occurs to him.”
These rare values can be lost in today’s culture of social media. In an environment where everyone has a voice that can reach across the globe, we have an overflow of weightless words and thoughtless opinions. In such environments we are trained like Pavlov’s dog to listen to respond rather than to listen to understand. Real life conversations involve little actual listening as each person exchanges word vomit. The other conversant has barely finished their sentence before we are ready to spring in and inject our own great insight.
I find myself repenting regularly, often daily, over this issue in my own life. Though I am given regular opportunities to address large groups of people, though many people seek me out for private counsel and give me opportunities to speak into their lives, I still find myself talking far too much, and not listening enough.
That brings me back to the beautiful sound of quiet. Sometimes when I’m plugging along in my old Honda I’ll silence all the voices, roll down the windows, and listen for nothing. In those times I tend to experience the presence of God much more than when blasted by the noise of radio, of people’s opinions, and of my own voice.