Editor’s Note: Beloved Meridian author Darla Isackson passed away. We will continue to share her wonderful insights here periodically.
Years ago a line in an “I Love Lucy” program made me laugh. Lucy and Desi had moved from the city to the country. In the middle of the first night Lucy sat up in bed and said, “I can’t sleep. This quiet is too loud.” I too can get so used to noise that quiet is loud to me. Unfamiliar quiet can be “disquieting.”
Stillness, lack of outside stimulation and distraction, grants me the option to open the inner door to my thoughts. I can ponder, examine feelings, hear promptings, increase awareness of the dynamics of my life, and recognize ways I need to repent. However, honest inner dialog can be uncomfortable, even painful. If I am filled with grief, emotional pain, or guilt, it is much more comfortable in the moment to keep external noise coming at me—loud and constant—so that I temporarily escape the hurt, or put off hearing the still voice of my conscience. Sometimes I may avoid stillness and quiet prayer because I fear the obligation to obey promptings of the still small voice if I hear them.
I love the words of the hymn “Be Still My Soul.” The first line is: “Be still my soul, the Lord is on my side” (Hymn 124). I easily forget that the Lord is on my side when my soul is not still. Psalm 23:2 says, “He leads me beside the still waters.” I was fascinated to learn that sheep can’t drink if the water isn’t still. I’ve found through experience that I can’t drink of Living Waters if I do not find a time of stillness.
Spiritual Dangers of Too Much Noise
The pervasive noise of modern society seems to be part of the adversary’s plan to keep us from hearing the voice of the Lord to our souls. Personal revelation through the Holy Ghost is the very essence of gospel living; all this noise and distraction (which we are so used to we hardly even think about it) can so easily keep us from hearing it.
Everywhere we go there are technological temptations—most of them noisy, most of them optional. We choose the noise of distraction when we hop into the car and turn the radio on, cranking up the volume to a level that eclipses all possibility of quiet meditation. We choose it when we walk into the house and immediately flip on the TV. That one tiny decision can flood the home with the world’s polluted clamor. Even if only for background, the noise can be like static that keeps us from tuning into the messages being constantly broadcast by the still small voice. Even when we’re not really listening to the blaring TV or radio, the very feeling of the words, music, and sound-effects can influence us negatively. Smart phones now make it possible to watch movies or TV programs anytime, any place, which provides the temptation to “entertain” and distract ourselves from stillness even more.
Isaiah 30:15 says, “For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.” Are we another society that “would not?” Would not rest? Would not be quiet? Would not find inner confidence and strength because we allow ourselves to be distracted by the clamor of the world?
The Still, Small Voice
What a challenge for young people to grow up in a society where the noise of the media, of smart phones, video games and DVDs, of music and TV and radio is constant—a society where silence and solitude are suspect. Twenty-first century technology promises us all more and more noisy things to do. Yet fast-paced loud entertainment and computerized highways may leave us spiritually stalled. Any person can become “past feeling” if they consistently fail to make themselves available to the promptings of the still small voice whose technology changeth not. The super information highway of cable and fiber optics can literally preempt the transformation of knowledge from the Spirit of the Lord to a human heart.
Many scriptures describe the voice of the Spirit, such as: “A still voice of perfect mildness.” (Helaman 5:30) “A still small voice, which whispereth.” (D&C 85:6) “After the fire, a still, small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12) In order to hear that still, small voice, we must turn off the clatter of the world, turn off the bad news of the world, tune into the stillness of the good news of the gospel.
The Influence of Environment
What environment is most conducive for inviting the Spirit? How much of the time do we choose that environment? During most sports events, the noise level is deafening. I attended an ice hockey game in the paralympics that was inspiring (because of the courage of severely handicapped players) but nerve-jangling. They piped in jarring music at a decibel level that made conversation impossible. “Scream!” cue cards were brandished and enthusiastically obeyed by the young people.
The volume of the soundtrack in movie theaters and the music at dances is often so loud that we truly cannot “hear ourselves think” much less hear anyone else talk or hear still voices in our hearts. To add to the effect of the overpowering volume, the images on many TV programs, movies, and video games change every fraction of a second, leaving no time to consider, to ponder, to make judgments, to consult our consciences, even to enjoy. If children are allowed, even encouraged, to be in this high-speed, high-noise environment a good share of their waking hours, how can they learn to listen to their inner voice, and when can they process and sort out all the information thrown at them? When can they feel the light of Christ within them? How can they hear the Spirit? High-speed bombardment of images and noise can easily keep our minds so busy there is no room for Him.
Prolonged loud noises affect more than physical hearing; we can also be inflicted with spiritual hearing loss. I suspect that it takes far fewer decibels of noise to damage our spiritual hearing than it does to damage our physical hearing. However, while damage to the inner ear may be irreparable, most spiritual hearing damage IS repairable because our receptivity to the still small voice is based on choice. We can teach our children that we always have the option of turning down the volume of the world. We always have the option of repenting and turning our spiritual ears to the Lord.
Finding a Spiritual Oasis
How many quiet times do our children enjoy? How often do they treasure moments of solitude and stillness? Are they so busy, so programmed, so fenced in with noisy electronics that they never even know what they are missing?
I still treasure some of my first experiences of enjoying stillness and solitude, such as sleeping in a hammock hung from pine trees near a lake when I was about eight years old. The rest of the family was sleeping in a tent, but my parents gave in to my pleas and let me sleep in the hammock. I was mesmerized by the starry sky, the whispering breeze in the trees, and the water lapping on the shore; I felt perfectly still.
When I was twelve years old, my dad pitched a tent in our big back yard. That afternoon it rained, and I went out into the tent by myself and sat there entranced, listening to the soft pitter-pat of the rain on the canvas and drinking in the feeling of peace. I felt close to nature, close to God.
Later, when I was in high school, I remember coming home from a play practice just after the family had retired. A fire still glowed in the fireplace, so I didn’t turn the lights on. I sank into a chair near the warm fire and breathed a sigh of contentment. The quiet of our house felt so good after my busy day. I felt a kind of reverence and gratitude, and was drawn into prayer.
One way we can create times of spiritual oasis for our children over twelve is to encourage them to participate in baptisms for the dead. During the time I was playing the organ in the temple baptistery, I made a huge paradigm shift. The chapel was often full of young people waiting their turn to do baptisms for the dead. The first few times I watched them, I thought, “What a waste of time! It’s too bad more of them can’t come during slow times so they wouldn’t have so long to wait.” Over time I became aware of how precious these minutes could be for them. They were experiencing a true spiritual oasis. No TV show or video game beckoned. No blaring music distracted. They had nothing to do but think, pray, contemplate, read scriptures or church magazines. They were experiencing precious and rare quiet moments that invite the sweet feeling of spiritual promptings. Once savored, the experience begs to be repeated.
Whenever I find myself spiritually disconnected, previous oasis experiences compel me to seek the Spirit again and again. And the promise is sure: as we seek, we find.
Turning off the World to Tune into the Spirit
Every person needs to find a spiritual oasis in life’s desert. Only through the Spirit can we be led to Living Water. Only through the Spirit can the Lord speak to our souls, comfort and heal and guide us through life’s difficult journey. Don’t we all yearn to find a slower, quieter version of life? We need to create islands of time for ourselves to listen to the still small voice. Although the Spirit can speak to us anywhere and anytime, when we turn off noisy electroics and listen, we are much more likely to “have ears to hear” the priceless promptings.
The Savior Is the Source of Inner Stillness
What about those days when the turmoil is inside? When no matter how quiet the environment, we can find no inner stillness? I love the story of Peter waking the Savior in the midst of a fierce storm, saying “Carest thou not that we perish?” Jesus arose, and calmly said unto the sea, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). And the sea obeyed! The only true source of inner stillness is Him. Regardless of waves that break upon our hearts, no matter the fierceness of the winds that blow in our minds, when we turn to Him we can eventually find peace. We can again be still. The scriptures, the words of living prophets, and the words His Spirit speaks to our minds are all like a balm to our troubled souls. They bring us back to stillness.
Two quotations in Psalms speak this principle eloquently. “O God of our salvation . . . Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people. . .” (Psalms 65:5, 7). “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm so that the waves thereof are still” (Psalms 107:28-29).
Awash in a world of confusion and fear, of sin and inner turmoil, the Lord alone will calm our seas. A phrase that appears both in Psalms 46:10 and D&C 101:16 says it well: “Be still and know that I am God”