Hush the Noise, Cease the Strife

img_6060It’s a busy time of year. We run. We shop. We bake. We visit. We wrap. We wait in line. And in traffic. We decorate. We host. We travel. We carol. We volunteer. And that’s just Tuesday.

Our stress goes up as our calendars grow full and our receipts pile high, as we juggle in-laws and office parties. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, we say, but I can’t help wondering if we rush and fret right past the most wonderful parts of it.

There is a version of an old Christmas carol that sings, “O hush the noise and cease the strife and hear the angels sing.” I can’t get that line out of my head.

It has me thinking about about the noise and strife in my life. There is a lot of it. It all has an impact on me. Some of it exhausts me. Some distracts me. All of it influences me in some way or another.

Maybe silencing it for a short time would be beneficial to me. Maybe I’d hear more angels singing. Or children laughing. Or friends sharing their lives with me.

Maybe hushing and ceasing would allow me to be more present with those that matter most. Perhaps I’d be healthier for it. Maybe I’d eat and sleep better. And be less angry. Or at least shake my head in disgust a few less times a day. Maybe I’d eventually discover that “peace on earth and goodwill to men” thing.

I’m certain there are times to make noise. And there are good reasons to wade into strife, especially as peacemakers and justice seekers. But there are times when we need rest and reset. When we need to withdraw for our well-being and the good of those we are tasked with loving. The journey is long and if we aren’t careful it can eat us alive, making us cynical or apathetic and leaving us empty inside.

As this is the most wonderfully busy time of the year, perhaps its a good time to practice hushing the noise and ceasing the strife. As we run from event to event and drown ourselves in around the clock media coverage, perhaps it is a good time to hit pause and take a deep breath or two.

The Christian calendar starts with a season called Advent. In Advent we wait in anticipation and prepare for the coming of Jesus (both his birth, which we celebrate anew each year, and his eventual return to make all things new). Each year we remember our need for saving and the hope that is found in a God who shows up in our world. This year Advent runs from December 2 to 24.

I’m planning on adopting some practices during these weeks to help me make the most of my time. For me it is important that my heart is ready for Jesus’ arrival. I don’t want to miss it while I’m busying crafting clever tweets about how wrong someone is. I don’t want to miss it by filling my world with obligations and shopping and non-stop running.

I don’t want to be so busy celebrating what we call Christmas that I miss Christ.

I don’t want to be surrounded by such incessant noise that I miss the call to come and celebrate the birth of Christ the King.

So I’ve come up with a list of practices I believe would make a difference in my life. Not so I can end up on the Nice List or get some heavenly reward. But to ensure I’m ready. To ensure I’m present. To ensure I’m listening to what and who matters most.

To hush the noise and cease the strife.

I share them here just in case you’d want to practice one or two of them with me from now until Christmas Day.

Whether you try these or something else or nothing else, may we be ready to meet the child who is coming. May we hear his voice and call. May we find his hope. May we rise above the noise and strife that distracts or disrupts. May we find peace and rest. And may we find this season as wonderful as all our songs proclaim.


A sampling of practices for a more peaceable Advent

Turn off cable news. I’m convinced we are not meant to listen to people telling us what we should be angry about night after night. Turn it off for an extended time. Watch the local news if you need some connection to the outside world. I promise if anything earth shattering happens you’ll hear about it. Cable news isn’t inherently bad, but if its adding to our distrust of neighbors or elevated doses of anxiety to our lives, maybe we could do with a break.

Abstain from social media. Shut it down for a while. Block out the noise. You probably don’t need to know everyone’s opinions. And you (read: I) certainly don’t need to enter into anymore unproductive Facebook debates. Or, if that isn’t an option…

Uninstall your Facebook and Twitter apps. You’ll be less likely to mindlessly check in on what your former neighbor’s daughter ate for lunch and what conspiracy that one person is peddling on your news feed again. You can still check in from your browser, it will simply be more intentional. Of if that is too much to ask…

Commit to one month of no potentially divisive social media posts. Stop sharing everything you think slam dunks on the people you disagree with. Even if you know just how right it it is. Instead share pictures of your grandkids or puppies or stories that enlarge even the smallest of hearts three sizes. Don’t contribute to the strife in others’ lives. You can do it and we need you to.

Have dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Preferably out at a restaurant so no one has to do dishes. And tip well. Friendship is a gift to the soul. We need reminded we are not alone and there are people who love us.

Say no. Find a way to resist filling every moment of every day. Make sure you have an evening at home at least once or twice a week. Ensure you have time to get the laundry done so that the mounds of clothes don’t taunt you every time you drag yourself in from the latest obligation. Create space for yourself.

Play board games. Gather friends or family and spend time laughing over Scrabble or Ticket to Ride. Be together and have fun.

Go to bed earlier than you normally would. Rest is important. I’m terrible at this. There is always something to do. Or those few moments of quiet in the house are too enjoyable to waste on sleep. But we need it. It makes a difference in physical and emotional health. An extra hour of sleep over four weeks sounds pretty beautiful and is likely needed if you are anything like me.

Shut out distractions. Maybe its a phone game or a person who is no good for you. Maybe its not something bad, just something unproductive. Can you set it aside until Christmas? Would your life be better for it?

Spend less. Credit card debt is not healthy. Not knowing how we will pay the rent next month is not helpful. Don’t buy into the idea that we have to spend a lot to show we love a lot.

Hand make a gift or two. Hello Pinterest. Or maybe you aren’t crafty. Hand write a letter. Take time to think of a person or persons who matter to you and instead of throwing money at them, give them a gift with meaning.

Be generous. A pastor friend of mine said recently, “Being generous is the most fun you you can have.” I believe it. Share with others. Open your home. Give cookies. Give grace. Generosity changes us. Its why Scrooge and the Grinch are the villains this time of year. Don’t believe the lie of scarcity. Share what you have and watch your joy grow.

Less television. Especially Hallmark movies (just kidding). Perhaps just sit by the fire or Christmas lights. And talk. Or read a book. Or just rest in the quiet. Embrace silence. Especially if the idea of silence bothers you.

Go slow. Don’t speed. Don’t honk when the light turns green. Don’t eat fast food. Make yourself slow down. Slowing down means we have to plan better. It keeps us from the chaotic stress of constantly running. Maybe we will notice something we would have missed otherwise.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for all you aren’t doing or the ways this year didn’t turn out how you’d hoped. Don’t compare yourself to that person who looks like they have it all together (they don’t). Give yourself permission to mess up. We all have room to grow, but we won’t get there by dragging ourselves down.

Be kind to others. Cashiers are extra busy. Wait staff have kids at home with babysitters. Teachers are herding over-tired and sugared up children. Some folks are hurting. Some are missing loved ones. Some are struggling in heavy ways. Take the time to be kind. Make it a discipline. Speak life. Hold your tongue. Give compliments. Be a blessing.

Study your way to Christmas. Join an Advent reading plan. Read the Scriptures in a posture of listening. Hear the good news again and again. Some options here, here, and here.

Perhaps you can think of other things we could start or stop in the coming weeks. Let’s be intentional about how we get to Christmas this year. Together lets hush the noise and cease the strife.

 

 

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I Need a New Gym: A Short Parable

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I joined a gym back in May. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles and it certainly doesn’t offer Cross Fit or I’d be posting about it every.single.day (just kidding Cross Fit people, just kidding), but it has some weights and treadmills and other machines I’ve yet to attempt to use.

I don’t make it over there very often, usually only every few weeks. Randomly I get inspired to go, but honestly, I struggle to put in work while I’m there. I don’t particularly enjoy sweating or the soreness that accompanies lifting weights so I stick to low resistance and easy-to-accomplish exercises. Sometimes I don’t even need a shower when I’m done, which is a bonus.

In the treadmill area they have all these mirrors that show me how I really look, so I avoid that room completely. I’m not interested in reality, just what I want to reality to be.

And now, I am looking for a new gym.

See, after months of gym membership I am not getting any results. I’ve actually gained weight and my six year old has to open the jar of pickles for me. I expect more out of my gym.

I’m looking for a gym that will shed the pounds for me regardless of the junk food I consume throughout the week. I need a gym that can increase my strength without increasing my need to lift. I need a gym that can instantly zap off a few inches when I require my suit to fit by tomorrow.

My doctor says I need to make some healthy changes in my life, so here I am, once again, looking for a gym that can help me. Hopefully the next one will be just what I need.

The moral of this story (that is only mostly true) should be obvious. It’s not a gym problem, it’s a me problem. But it’s a whole lot easier for me to blame the gym then to take ownership of my physical well-being.

I can search high and low for a gym that magically produces results, but until I am determined and committed to put in the work, I will see no progress. Until how I eat daily changes, no amount of walking into a building occasionally will do much good. Until I push myself further than I want to go, I will not see much difference.

And this, my friends, is how many of us attend to our faith and to local church families. We want the results without the effort. We want the beach body without the sugar and carb free diet. We want to show up whenever we feel like it and still get the same results as those who hit the track first thing every morning.

And when we don’t get results, when our problems don’t miraculously disappear overnight because we went to the altar once, we look to find someone to blame.

We find a new gym. A new trainer. We try pills. We try crash diets. Anything to keep us from having to honestly examine our own role in perpetual state of ill health.

There are very good and necessary reasons why we may need a new church family or a new pastor or new mentor, but before going down that road, we should stop and take an honest inventory of our faithfulness and our effort.

Without those things, the next gym or diet or trainer will end up disappointing us as well. We will end up in an endless cycle of “not getting my needs met” while doing nothing to attempt to meet our own needs.

The gym/local church provides the tools, what we do with those tools is up to us.

  • Are we exercising our faith muscles?
  • Are we consuming lots of junk?
  • Are we taking the path of least resistance?
  • Are we showing up and participating in any kind of meaningful way?
  • Are we lifting?
  • Are we stretching ourselves?

Are we approaching our faith and church community like I approach the gym? This won’t lead to the change we hope for or the change we need.

A gym membership card in my wallet doesn’t do a lick of good until it is put to frequent use. Spiritual health, like physical health, requires action and intention and effort. If you resist sweating and stretching and soreness or if you feast on junk food more days than not, you will end up discouraged, hurt, or unhealthy.

The solution for most of us isn’t a new gym or new 90-day cleanse. It’s a new attitude, some new priorities, and a renewed effort. The solution isn’t out there somewhere, its within us.

If we want to be healthy we’ve got to put in the work to be healthy.

So show up. Serve. Read your bible. Pray. Give. Be consistent. Watch what you consume. Target problem areas. Worship. Ask for help. Be honest. Confess. Forgive. Love. Then show up again. And again. And again. Even when you’re sore. Even when your tired. Even when its easier not to.

May you and I dedicate ourselves to our spiritual well-being. May we take ownership of our faith and our circumstances. May we commit to the hard work of faithfulness and growth. And may we then see the results we so desperately need. May the pounds fall away, our strength begin to swell, and our faith be encouraged as we put in the effort to follow Jesus.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to finish this double cheeseburger before heading over to the gym.