If I were the adversary with all his centuries of practice at tempting and deceiving, I would surely have learned what works best to thwart mankind. I suspect I would choose as a primary purpose to distract people from the guiding, testifying, comforting voice of the Holy Spirit. Left on their own in the natural man state, people become (for the moment at least) an enemy to God. So I would use all my accumulated knowledge to present a million tantalizing options and noisy voices to preempt and drown out the still voice of perfect mildness (Helaman 5 30), the still small voice which whispereth (D&C 85: 6).
As Satan accomplishes this goal in ever-more effective ways in our society, our goal to hear the Spirit and teach our children to hear it becomes increasingly elusive. We are tempted away from things that matter most by an array of incredibly attractive pastimes, media blitzes, and electronic toys that our ancestors could never have dreamed of.
Twenty-first century technology is fulfilling its promise to give us more noisy things to do and less time to do them. But traveling in the fast lane wired in any number of ways to distracting music and voices, texting all the while, will never bring us closer to God; the computerized highways may leave us spiritually stalled. Could we become “past feeling” because we are not making ourselves available to the promptings of the Spirit whose technology changeth not? I believe the basics of technology have come through the power of inspiration. However, is it possible that the super information highway of cable and fiber optics could preempt the transformation of knowledge from the Spirit of the Lord to our spirits?
Everywhere we go there are technological temptations–most of them noisy, most of them optional. I choose the noise of distraction when I hop in the car and turn the radio on, cranking up the volume to a level that eclipses all possibility of quiet meditation. Children choose it when they walk in the house and immediately flip on the TV. Even if only in the background (many say the TV keeps them company while they do their work) the noise can be like static that keeps us from picking up the still small voice. Many times we aren’t really listening to what the TV or radio or I-Pods are blaring to us, yet the very feeling of the words, music, and sound-effects can influence us negatively. Even if we develop the habit of tuning out all that noise, that very habit makes it easier to tune out the Spirit– and each other.
Sit Long and Talk Much
Our stake president suggested a couple of years ago that we needed to get back to “the good old days” before the media had crowded out the sounds of each other’s voices, when people used to visit. Maybe part of the challenge in learning to listen to the Spirit is that listening in general is becoming a lost art. Sunday all five of my sons and I sat around the table together for the first time in awhile. We listened to each other for more than an hour! Why is that sort of thing so unusual? Do pharisaic “to-do” lists sometimes keep us from doing things that matter more? I have to admit that I have sometimes experienced a visitor unannounced and un-purposeful at my door as an intrusion on my “schedule.” I easily forget what it is like to “sit long and talk much” as my stake president suggested we do with each other. I see a correlation: when I become “too busy” to visit with others, to listen to their concerns, I suspect I am also “too busy” to ponder, pray, and invite the direction of the Spirit.
Choosing the Environment of the Spirit
What environment is most conducive for inviting the Spirit? How much of the time do we choose that environment? It is by accident that the noise level at many sporting events is deafening? They often pipe in jarring music at a decibel level that make conversation impossible. “Scream!” cue cards may be brandished, and the young people follow the cue. 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 sheer volume, the images on many TV programs, movies, and video games change every fraction of a section, leaving no time to consider, to ponder, to make judgments, to consult our consciences, even to enjoy. Could high-speed bombardment of images, ideas, and noise be part of a technique by the adversary to keep our minds so busy there is no room for Him?
If young 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?
Most technology can be used for righteous purposes. We can choose the environments that allow us to benefit from them. Many of us just enjoyed viewing general conference, and many other edifying Church programs are available to us via television and satellite broadcasts. Some movies too can have a positive spiritual impact. Too often, however, these technological wonders portray worldly images and sounds that tend to make it more difficult to hear the still small voice.
It is up to us to choose our family environment wisely. We can work together in gardens away from the noise, go on family activities to places where the quiet of nature can create an environment for hearing the Spirit. How wise the counsel of Church leaders to have quiet times with our children–scripture study, family prayer, family home evenings, personal interviews. How rare and precious is the quiet time of the sacrament, the quiet environment of temples—and sometimes chapels. After the spiritually edifying and moving Nauvoo temple dedication, (made possible to members all over the world by the technology of satellite transmission) members of my stake filed out of the chapel in perfect silence. The contrast from our usual Sunday exodus impressed on my mind the beautiful reverence of silence. How fortunate were all who shared in that experience where time stood still, past and present merged, and the very veil of heaven seemed pierced. There is no doubt the whisperings of the still small voice can be heard in such a setting.
Finding a Spiritual Oasis
At one time I had a calling to play the organ in the temple baptistery. In the summer the chapel is 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 the slow times so they wouldn’t have so long tp wait.” But soon I became aware of how precious these minutes were for them. They were experiencing a true oasis in the noisy deserts of their lives.
No one was calling them to come set the table or do their homework. No TV show was beckoning, tempting. No blaring music distracted. They had nothing to do but think, pray, contemplate, or read scriptures or church magazines. It was one of those precious and rare slow-down times that can create the contrast we so desperately need in order to notice that we are truly alive, truly moving through space. And in those quiet moments I’m certain many of these young people experience the sweet feeling of spiritual promptings. Once held in consciousness, the experience begs to be repeated. When we find ourselves spiritually disconnected while travelling the dry and barren deserts of life, our oasis experiences compel us to seek the Spirit again and again. And the promise is sure: as we seek, we find.
The challenges our complex, corrupt, fast-paced society presents to our children are astronomical. It helps for parents to be aware, to be forewarned and forearmed. Amazingly, one of the most deadly dangers to spiritual sensitivity is reflected in the oft-heard lament of young people who, although they live in the whirl of more stimulation and information and options than any other generation that has ever lived, cry out repetitively, plaintively, “I’m bored.” How could it be?
How Do Young People Get Burned Out and Bored to Death?
I am often reminded that both the noise and the pace of our lives can keep us from feeling the Spirit. In a Newsweek article,1 Ronald Dahl, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said, “Our fast-paced lives lead kids to seek every-bigger thrills with ever-decreasing satisfaction.”
Could it be that reason this lifestyle isn’t satisfying is because it is tailor-made to shut out the voice of the Spirit?
Ronald Dahl told of taking his nine-year-old to the amusement park where the boy discovered he was finally tall enough to ride one of the fastest roller coasters in the world. Mr. Dahl said, “We blasted through face-stretching turns and loops for 90 seconds. Then, as we stepped off the ride, he shrugged and, in a distressingly calm voice, remarked that it was not as exciting as other rides he’d been on.” He goes on to relate the dilemma of parents spending more and more money for more and more thrills for children less and less satisfied and more and more bored.
Dr. Dahl tells of his pondering to discover answers to the question, “How can it be so hard for kids to find something to do when there’s never been such a range of stimulating entertainment available to them?” He said the constant intensity of the stimulation is part of the answer. “What creates exhilaration is not going fast, but going faster. Accelerating from 0 to 60mph in a few seconds slams the body backward with powerful sensations, but going 60 for hours on the interstate causes so little feeling of speed that we fight to stay awake. At a steady velocity of 600 mph we can calmly sip soft drinks on an airplane. Thrills have less to do with speed than changes in speed.”
The Hurry Syndrome Affects Children Too
Dahl suggests that we look carefully at the speed of our children’s lives in general. Think about it: is the typical child’s schedule where the morning rush to make the school bus is matched by a rapid shuttle through after-school activities analogous to travelling on the freeway with no stops, no slowdowns, no rests? Dinner, too, is often a series of snacks eaten on the run. If they manage to rush through their homework in time, kids want to ‘relax’ in front of highly arousing images on the television or computer screen. Dr. Dahl notes that even when tired, children often find stimulation through exciting activities and that fighting off tiredness by going faster can turn into a habit that is hard to change.
Going Nowhere at Breakneck Speed?
He continues, “Most important, as thrills displace needed rest, sleep-deprived kids have trouble with irritability, inattention, and moodiness. [I can’t help but think how difficult it is to hear the Spirit when I am exhausted because I haven’t been getting enough sleep.] Ironically, stimulants seem to help children with these symptoms. [Short term benefit–long term detriment] I’m concerned about the cumulative effect of years at these levels of feverish activity. It is no mystery to me why many teenagers appear apathetic and burned out. . . Constant access to high stimulation may also create patterns of emotional imbalance. An adolescent moving too fast emotionally for too long can experience the same sense of stillness as the airline passenger traveling at breakneck speed.”
The Law of Opposites and Opposition
Do Dahle’s thoughts explain a lot about our current crop of kids? Could we take the analogy a little further in regard to our need for changes of speed to our need for contrast of experiences in every avenue of life? Doesn’t God’s plan for mortality include contrasts between good and evil, between light and darkness, between sickness and health, pleasure and pain? The media can certainly be used as an example of the contrast since we can see the extremes of each in its various uses. Is the point to choose as much good, light, and pleasure as possible and help our children do the same? Yes and no. If we sail swiftly on the wings of well-being, knowing no need, feeling no relief from discomfort because we have none, where is the learning, where is the joy? When do we tend to seek the Spirit? When all is well and we have everything we want? No, when we are lacking.
Boredom vs. Gratitude
Surely our children learn more from contrasts than they could ever learn from sameness. Boredom is the opposite frame of mind from gratitude and seems to happen when children are rescued from natural consequences, are not required to work to enjoy material things, and are buffered from the contrasts between having and not having. They don’t appreciate pleasure if they are kept from experiencing pain. When we try to protect our children from contrasts or from deprivation, we unknowingly are attempting to erect a screen between them and the Lord’s wise all-knowing plan. We may keep them from the very experiences that would motivate them to reach out spiritually, to listen carefully, to seek and hear the still small voice.
Turning off the World to Tune into the Spirit
The need to help our children find alternatives to the thrill-seeking fast lane and find their own oasis in life’s desert seems evident. 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. By finding ways to choose a slower, quieter version of life ourselves we can set the example.
Dahle concluded his article by saying, “ I am convinced that nothing could be so important as finding a more balanced path, rediscovering slower, simpler pleasures before we all become burned out and bored to death.”
Perhaps this secular author didn’t realize that the reason nothing could be so important, is that only in this simpler lifestyle are we likely to create islands of time for ourselves to listen to the still small voice.
Because it is still, because it is small, we need not only ears to hear, but a modicum of quiet and solitude. Only when we turn off the TV, the IPods and the cell phones, turn off the blaring music, turn off the computer, and listen–can we hear the priceless promptings of the Holy Spirit.
1 Ronald Dahl, Newsweek, “Burned Out and Bored to Death,” December 15, 1997
Note: Darla has been a professional writer and editor for four decades and has been writing for Meridian regularly since January of 2002. She is the author of Trust God No Matter What and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On. Visit her website darlaisackson.com to learn more about her books.