I recently traveled to Iceland and absolutely loved every aspect of my trip; however, my favorite part of the trip actually eluded me while I was there. It wasn’t until after I returned to the United States that I realized what I had loved so much. Iceland was quiet. Not an eerie quiet, but a tranquil quiet. As we went from village to village, life seemed unhurried. In fact, my least favorite places were the most popular tourist spots, because they shattered my romanticized views of Iceland.
We live in a noisy world. Literally and figuratively. If a store is not pulsating with music, its echoing the screams of a child who can’t have his way or a parent who can’t control her child. At a stoplight, cars reverberate with music pumping from the speakers of a single car nearby; and if cars don’t accelerate quickly enough after the light turns green, a lengthy horn is sure to alert everyone within a square mile. Beyond that, we are bombarded by advertisements on billboards, buses, and benches. Commercials are played relentlessly in every mobile application until we are desperate to upgrade to a commercial-free premium membership. Our mailboxes are overflowing with ads and coupons and credit card offers. Furthermore, our social media is flooded with its own ads, everyone’s opinion about everything, and pictures of your friends and your friend’s friends and your friend’s friend’s friends and your friend’s friend’s friend’s food.
It’s exhausting to manage and filter and discern, but it’s the world we live in.
So how can we find solace?
1. Turn off the digital noise.
While we were in Iceland, we had no reception. We couldn’t receive texts or phone calls or notifications of any sort. I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but for me, it was glorious! We talked to people face to face. We used physical maps. We enjoyed the world around us.
I can see the benefits of social media; however, I think the majority of people who have social media are not utilizing those benefits. Because of such neglect, social media can become a center for pride or discouragement or distraction. Many use social media as a platform to promote themselves or to find affirmation. Those who through comparison cannot live up to other’s portrayals of perfection find themselves discouraged. Others mindlessly scroll and post and click and squander time that could be much better spent.
While I think there are many compelling arguments against social media (another day, another post), I am not necessarily suggesting we delete all our accounts. What I am suggesting is that we learn to function without them. Because even though we may think we couldn’t possibly live without the connections or information that social media provides, we can. In fact, we may even learn that without social media we can build stronger connections. We are constrained to truly communicate and interact and relate to the people that God has placed in our lives. Furthermore, we may learn to discern what information (given and received) is indeed valuable. We may find that we feel less compelled to share our clever opinions on trending topics and more inclined to develop our beliefs in timeless truths.
2. Turn away from mind-numbing pursuits.
Six-hour plane rides may be torture for some, but for the reader, it’s the perfect time to finish a book or two. In addition to ample time for reading as we drove around the country, Iceland was also a great place for exploring and hiking and learning. We explored lava fields, found abandoned villages, hiked waterfalls, and learned about the culture (I feel like an expert on Icelandic economy, volcanoes, and the Huldufólk). We even learned the language. Just kidding. It’s one of the hardest languages to learn and almost everyone there speaks English. But I can say “Halló” really well.
In the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that television has instilled within our culture a desperate need to be endlessly entertained; therefore every aspect of American culture becomes a form of show business to keep the masses interested. If it can’t captivate and maintain the public’s interest then it is or becomes irrelevant. While I enjoy a good television show, movie, podcast, soundtrack, or radio station, I know that there are times when I must turn away from these things to contemplate, read, or study. These practices often take more effort but can be far more rewarding.
In Deep Work, Cal Newport writes, “Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.” We are a generation that finds it difficult to pursue a task if it requires extra effort. So many prefer to watch the movie rather than read the book. Others read only what can be read in short periods of time, and even then, they prefer to scan the headings and bold print assuming that will give them the gist of the piece. It takes work to get through classic novels and non-fiction, but the work truly is rewarding.
Beyond reading, work towards some goal in some area of your life. If you are in school, push yourself to your limits. Study until you could teach the material yourself. If you have a hobby, develop your skills. Become a better athlete, artist, or alliterator. If you run, build your distance or improve your time. If you write, write (because for me, that’s the hardest part about writing). Whatever your interests are, keep improving. Don’t give up because you don’t like the results. Don’t give up because someone can do it better than you can. We have to get better at getting better. We have to develop stick-to-itiveness (why, yes, I have been waiting my whole life to use that word).
3. Turn to God.
Iceland allowed me to see God in a new way. I experienced His creativity, His compassion, His closeness. It reminded me that no matter what we do or where we go, God has something that He wants to show us. Turning off the the digital noise and away from mind-numbing pursuits will only accomplish so much if we do not use some of that time to turn to God.
In order to find true solace, we must find rest in Him. Matthew 11:28-29 says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” God never intended for us to trudge through life on our own. He calls us to a better way. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Life will not be without burdens, without struggle. But we have access to supernatural strength that carries those burdens and endures those struggles. Paul writes, “And he [Jesus] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
In order to find true solace, we must find our identity in Him. If we seek to be defined by our status, wealth, or beauty, we seek to be defined by something that will fade away. However, if we claim the truth that we are “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10), pursuits of temporary pleasure or affirmation are displace by the pursuit to serve others and ultimately glorify God. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:2) Only God can fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts. As Augustine so beautifully reminds us: “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”
Few of us will ever live in places of timeless tranquility. However, to find solace, we must discern what noise we allow into our lives; and when the noise is beyond our control, we must access that inner peace that is only found in Christ alone.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)