“Make it your goal to live a quiet life.” I Thessalonians 4:11
This verse got me the other day. My first reaction was “that sounds lovely…sign me up!” Reality closed in shortly thereafter with a text message chiming and a kid calling “hey mom…. “
So, what does living a “quiet life” even mean for us today?” Is it to be content in your day-to-day life? To engage calmly with those around you? To live simply?
In our modern day western culture, we live with a lot of clutter: media, clothes, household items, toys, gadgets, sports equipment, dawn-to-dusk activities, etc. Each item or activity may have started with a pure motive – a kitchen gadget to make cooking more efficient, a garden tool to complete a yard project, a new golf club to improve our swing, each child choosing a sport or instrument to play. Taken individually, these separate choices seem simple and uncomplicated. Added up together over time, however, all of these “simple” choices lead to excess in our houses, garages, and yards. The electrical devices originally intended to make things more accessible and portable become ever-present and we feel tied down to them, trained to respond immediately. Our minds are perpetually racing to manage all the stimuli and sensory inputs bombarding us. Each family member’s single activity has a cumulative impact on the family schedule. We spend so much time scheduling our family calendars that this becomes its own activity. I love my big white board to keep it all straight, but it in itself is a reflection of the Busy in our lives.
How do we turn down the volume “to live a quiet life?” Many books, blogs and ads direct us to streamline and declutter. We have garage sales, participate in donation drives, recycle, pass along, and repurpose yet Stuff creeps back in with a vengeance. We are bombarded by social media, news, and music constantly. The Noise is everywhere we go. What do we have to release to edge a little closer to the Quiet Life?
I’m wondering if it’s possible to make a purposeful return to the Basics. That sounds a little retro, a bit old-fashioned…maybe even naive. How do we even determine this “Basics” level for our families? I’ve often reframed conversations with my children regarding their spoken wants vs. needs. Standing together in the toy aisle may involve a discussion such as “you want that cool Lego set, you don’t need it.” Yet my Target run for groceries almost always yields something from the household section or those tempting colorful container aisles. And it’s so easy to rationalize those little extras in seasonal clearance. As I near the checkout stand, though, I do a little rethinking as I’m reviewing my full cart…who put ALL this stuff in here anyway? ? Sometimes I’m able to remove a few items with a quick sweep; sometimes not.
What if we had a daily goal of “one less?” Maybe “one less” item in the grocery cart or “one less” book at the bookstore? It could be “one less” visit to a favorite coffee shop or “one less” just-let-me-run-in-here-for-a-minute stop. “One less” show on TV or Netflix? “One less” hour of device usage each evening? Limiting activities at the beginning of the school year — a goal of “one less” for each child? We noticed a vast difference just by dropping one music lesson per week.
Reality check: We knew we’d grown accustomed to an over-scheduled life when we reclaimed a couple weeknights as Family Nights and it felt “weird” to have a choice of what to do in the evening rather than running to the next activity on the agenda. It’s a “good weird,” though. I’m embracing it as one way to subdue the hectic pace. On occasion I even take a risk and turn off the radio in the car, allowing the silence to invite conversation back in. That sure gets a response from my teen passengers, but they’re gradually getting used to it…and I get a little bolder each time.
If “one less” feels punitive or too hard to maintain as a discipline, how about “one more” of those interactions we value? We could offer “one more” round of cards, “one more” story at bedtime, “one more” walk around the block…Perhaps we’ve stumbled upon the foundation of living a Quiet Life after all: “Less IS more.”