It started off so innocently. After hearing about it from what seemed like every person on the planet, I listened to the first season of Serial. Then I started listening to a few other podcasts that were recommended to me. Then I started subscribing regularly to a few political and comedy podcasts. I listened to them while I was cooking or emptying the dishwasher or occasionally in the car if my kids weren’t with me. Before long it got to the point that I didn’t want to walk outside to the garage to put a load of laundry in the washing machine if I couldn’t listen to a few minutes of a podcast while I sorted the clothes. I would have an internal debate about whether I should pause the podcast while I showered, wondering if I could hear it over the running water. I had effectively eliminated almost all the silence from my life, and it had happened so fast I’d scarcely realized it.
Silence is frightening. And I’m hardly the first to run from it. According to theologian and philosopher Dallas Willard, we fear silence because it makes us think of death. Perhaps for this very reason, Willard also names silence and solitude as the most radical practices Christians can engage in.
I believe in the practices of silence and solitude, yet I am full of excuses as to why I don’t effectively practice them. As a mom I often feel overwhelmed by the sounds, questions, and demands of my three children, and it’s easy to blame them for the lack of silence in my life, but the truth is that I invite the noise—through podcasts, yes, but also music, news, and even things that aren’t audible but are just as noisy: social media, texts, emails, magazines, and books. As much as I’d like to think that practicing silence is only for cloistered people or at least people who don’t have small children, it’s not my children’s fault when I have no silence in my life. It is my choice. The truth is that practicing silence when I can helps me to be less overwhelmed when they get noisy.
I also have long realized that my best times of prayer and reflection, and my most reliable source of ideas for writing and editing are times of silence—and often when I am busily engaged in a rote task—like walking, showering, or doing the laundry. So allowing podcasts to take over those times left me largely bereft of reflection, prayer, and new ideas.
How could God speak to me when my life offered no room for listening?
So here’s how I seek to fight the seductive power of the podcasts. One of the easiest changes for me has been to protect small periods of time. First, I try to leave all the sound off when I’m driving. In fact, I first started to realize how much I’d let the podcasts and other forms of media take over my quiet when I was driving to a MOPS speaking engagement about an hour and a half away. I was going over my talk in my head and remembering a particular section where I talk about my practice of driving in silence, and I clearly saw how much I’d been breaking my own rule. That morning I drove the whole way in silence, and to be honest, I didn’t love it, at least not at first.
Silence requires us to be honest with ourselves. There’s nowhere to hide in the quiet. It was hard to be alone with my thoughts that morning and recognize just how much I’d let my life be taken over by the constant and varied entertainment options available to me.
Yet I arrived at the church where I was to speak feeling calm and ready to share about the whole experience. This feeling of calm is one of the greatest gifts of silence. Because as much as it feels like reading and listening is educational and inspirational, too much of it makes me feel harried and anxious, and I already feel that way enough of the time without any help. Silence, on the other hand, never leaves me feeling more harried or anxious, always less.
So I remember this feeling, and I leave the radio, podcasts, and audio books off for short drives. I no longer try to listen to anything but the running water when I am showering.
I think of silence as something valuable, something I must protect and defend against the constant encroachment of the podcasts and all the other noise. But I have also decided that they’re still okay for the laundry.