“The greatest noise that hinders us from hearing is not so much the sound of our voice—it is the noise in our mind.” (John Paul Jackson and John E. Thomas, The Art of Praying Scriptures)
What do you think of these words? I find them quite true. There are times when I need to de-tox from the noise in my mind—the noise that comes from my own words and the words of others that build in me expectations and pressures, real and imagined.
I wonder if this is what Moses had in mind when he would leave life in the camp, so to speak, and enter the tent to meet with God (Exodus 33:7–11). In the tent was silence as he pulled away from the myriad voices claiming his attention back in the camp. From within the silence he found clarity and perspective as he listened to the One voice he most needed to hear speak into his life.
My husband and I find it increasingly important to have “entering the tent” times with God. We need to hear His voice speaking into our lives, and we need to pull away from the noise of the world so we can hear. This time we pulled away in Chiang Mai. For those who know Chiang Mai, this may not seem a likely place to pull away from noise, but it was convenient, and it came at a good time.
We had just been involved in conferences in Thailand. Mine began in Phuket, a beach-hugging city in the south where I attended a THRIVE conference. Many words were spoken during those days. Good words. Caring words. Helpful and healing words. God’s Word. From Phuket, I flew to Chiang Mai where I joined my husband to be speakers at one of our organization’s conferences. More words—our own mingled with the words of others—that produced an overload in our hearts and minds.
At the end of this ministry time, we were in need of God-time.
We drove to another location in Chiang Mai and then pulled our luggage across a busy side street and down a narrow alley to our chosen “tent of meeting”: a small lodge along the river. For the next four days, despite being in the heart of Chiang Mai, this quaint hotel was our quiet haven.
Back to the opening quote: “The greatest noise that hinders us from hearing is not so much the sound of our voice; it is the noise in our mind.”
After a period of intense relating, it is one thing to pull away from external noise (the sounds of voices: our own and others) and quite another to release the residue noise in our mind—but we need to do this, and it takes time. In fact, it takes more time to quiet the noise of our mind, since this is an internal noise we carry with us everywhere.
So when my husband and I “enter the tent” for an extended just-God time, whatever form the “tent” takes, we try to schedule at least three full days. This gives us time to slow down—time to de-tox, as we call it. To release the accumulated toxins of noise in the mind and stress in the body. To get ourselves to a healthier place of body, mind, and soul. A place where the healing hands of solitude and silence can do their work, and we can actually hear God speak. When the soul is quiet, even the whisper of God can be heard.
When we pull away for extended time with God, the last thing we want (and the last thing God wants, I believe) is to have this time be hurried. It is easy to make time with God simply another task we set out to do. We are on a spiritual retreat and so, by gum, let’s get to it. Let’s use our time well. Let’s pull out the books we have brought and the journals lodged in our luggage and get to work. After all, we only have so much time. We live in a hurried age.
There needs to be a de-tox from hurry. Both the hurry we accumulate in our bodies (going from one meeting to the next, from one conversation to the next, and from one task to the next) and in our minds (hurrying to answer, to get to the point, to do what we need to do, and to achieve what we want to achieve).
Wait! Work this is not. A task it is not. Relationship it is, and relationships do not benefit from hurry. So we allow time to become “fully there” for this one relationship we prize more than any other. We believe, as the authors of The Art of Praying Scriptures say so well, “One word from God is worth a year of man’s conversations.” We do not want to miss what He has to say to us—and we will miss it, believe you me, if we hurry. If we make this time more about “having time with God” than actually having time with God, if you get my drift.
So the first long afternoon in Chiang Mai, and even into the next day, was a bit of an Elijah-like retreat (1 Kings 19:5–6). We slept and ate and slept some more. We moved at our own pace and let the body tell us what it needed. We talked, but not deeply. We read, but not the spiritual resources we had brought with us. Not yet. Instead, we picked up the latest novel (for me) and biography (for him).
We did not hurry into our time with God. We slowed down into it.
There in the quiet, in the slowness, in the draining away of messages we had given and conversations we had engaged in, something else happened. The “shoulds” and the “oughts,” the second-guessing, the clinging-to mental images that had hooked their fingers tenaciously into words, and the actions—all these were left behind. The toxic noises in our minds? These too, drained away.
It has to be said that this slowing-down was done in the conscious presence of God. We were not waiting to be with Him. We were with Him. He was with us: in the letting go, in the slowing down, in the sleeping, the reading, and the eating. In the common ordinary restful things, we were together—God and us—just being.
The de-tox did its work. After bringing our souls into a place of space again and our minds to a place of quiet, the conversations began. For the remainder of our time in the “tent,” we listened to God through His Word and through the books we had brought. We spoke with Him in prayer, separately and together. From this place of space and quiet, we heard His voice, regained His perspective, and, eventually, were ready to return to life in the camp.
Question to consider: How do you create places of space and quiet in your life?