Filtering Out The Noise
by Amy Diller
In complete transparency, it has taken me a ridiculous amount of time to write this article. Even though my laptop is set up in a quiet place, my mind flits rapidly from one thing to another. In the past thirty minutes, I’ve checked my email and social media feeds multiple times, looked at my phone for texts or calls I may have missed, searched Amazon for more things I really don’t need, and started some initial planning for an upcoming trip. All the distractions have kept me from my purpose.
Living with Noise
The noise of life permeates our waking hours and interrupts our sleep. It presents itself in endless to-do lists, the constant “ding” of digital notifications, and internal replays of the day’s events. Noise is found in all of our “would haves,” “should haves,” and “could haves.” It drives our planning and shapes our health. It interrupts conversations and connections. Noise distracts us from discomfort and indecisiveness and fuels procrastination. It seeks to take over every corner of our lives, rendering us ineffective and exhausted.
The life of a ministry leader can be very noisy. Juggling volunteer schedules, prepping lessons, planning events, social media, and website updates, trying to figure out what to do with that one child who constantly acts out, not to mention tackling that storage closet filled to the ceiling that needs to be cleaned. And that’s just a few items on the work side of things. Home life and all it brings to the table vies for attention and brain space, too. Many of us think about and do work at home, and we take home life to work as well. By the time your head hits the pillow, your mind is ready to bring up everything you didn’t do, every shortcoming, every awkward conversation, and everything left undone that needs to be pushed from today’s to tomorrow’s to-do list. Noise can be exhausting, yet many of us reluctantly embrace the madness. It’s time to clean up the external and internal noise we allow to hold our attention.
Filtering Out the Noise – Externally
Take a hard look at your schedule and to-do list at home and at work. If you have children, go through the number of activities your children participate in as well as your own solo activities. If every night of the week is spent running here and there, maybe it’s time to choose some things to let go of. If television and devices are how you and your family spend evenings, it might be time to tighten the rules around your digital distractions in order to have more meaningful interactions. Whether you’re single or married, nothing is more important than time with your family.
Look at your work schedule. Do you do everything for your department? Plan lessons, prepare crafts and games, organize and stock classrooms, clean out closets and cupboards, select music, send cards, create and hang posters, decorate bulletin boards, order materials, design logos, update a website and create social media posts is probably just a portion of the things you take care of. A to-do list encompassing all these things (and more) is too much for one person. We tend to do things by ourselves instead of delegating them because we want things done a certain way. The time to move things from your to-do list starts now. The noise from more things than you can possibly accomplish in one day increases stress and anxiety. Enlist the help of volunteers to take over part of your load. They may not do things exactly the way you would, but they may also bring new perspectives and great ideas, leaving you more time to focus on the most important aspects of your ministry.
Decrease noise by taking a few days to track your use of time. What are the unnecessary distractions that use up time and put pressure on you to work even faster? Chatting with coworkers for fun helps create camaraderie as a team, but it’s easy to let this time grow and run over your schedule if it’s not kept in check. The same goes for social media. Because we are ministering to plugged-in people, maintaining a digital presence is an important communication tool. While perusing can be good, getting sucked into Facebook or Instagram happens so easily, and before you know it, an hour has gone by. Let’s not forget cell phones! When was the last time you silenced your notifications so you could give your full attention to something or someone? Devices have trained us to respond immediately to the *ding*, but every interruption takes your attention away from whatever you’ve been working on. A text message, email, or phone call can actually be left unanswered for a while. As you pay attention to how you spend your time, you will discover areas where you can make some changes to ease the demands of the day and decrease the noise in your life.
Filtering Out the Noise – Internally
You can trim down your calendar, lessen distractions, and buy all the planners and sticky notes you want, but the noise will never truly be quieted until some heart work is done. Anxiety, depression, stress, negative self-talk, and chronic illness all create a lot of internal static that filters into our external life. The very best time management and delegation skills cannot take the place of caring for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. We skip workouts, sacrifice time with the Lord, ignore our feelings, and put off therapy in order to give ourselves extra time in our schedules, falsely believing these things don’t really matter. We often seek to avoid our internal discomfort, filling our time by overdoing it in our external world. Sometimes we work hard to appear calm, cool, and collected on the outside so we can ignore what’s going on inside. This mismatch between our outer selves and inner selves creates stress. Left unchecked, this kind of noise only grows louder. We adopt unhealthy ways of living. Stuck here, burnout is inevitable when the noise around you and the noise within you drive how you deal with everyday expectations.
Take some time to think about what’s most important to you. Determine what needs to happen to keep those priorities in a healthy place. You may need to learn what it looks like to nurture silence, allowing time to regularly embrace quiet moments in your external and internal self, or to set aside all distractions to practice listening for the voice of the Lord in your time with Him, being still in His presence. It may be that your physical fitness has suffered in the midst of all the noise, and it’s time to start with a doable goal of a 30-minute walk three times a week. Maybe you’ve put off seeing a therapist to address feelings of anxiety and depression, and you need to take the first step by scheduling an appointment. The beautiful thing coming out of investing in your internal self is the ability to be more focused, purposeful, and able to recognize and dampen noise before it settles in for a long and loud stay.
Making space to take inventory of your external and internal noise can profoundly affect how you live your life. Struggle and stress will never disappear completely because of things that crop up every day, but you can develop the tools to deal with difficulties in healthy physical and spiritual ways. In a world filled with distractions, lots of good things push the best things out of life, and the idea that you just have to live at hyper speed comes to the forefront. You need to make the choice to step out of the noise and into a quieter, more peaceful way of life.
My prayer for you as you consider this topic comes from Philippians 1:9-10 “…that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best…”.