Strength in Silence
I rented a cabin in the southern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains last May. Having survived some of the hardest years of my life and learned too many unwanted lessons, I had made writing my outlet and hobby. For months I had been plugging away, chapter after chapter, at my first novel. The purpose of my trip was to clean up the rough draft and do a little free-writing. I wasn’t against an uninterrupted nap, either. My kids assured me they would survive, and my husband promised to feed them in my absence. After loading my suitcase into the car, I kissed my family goodbye and set out alone.
The drive along the southern border of Tennessee was breathtaking with late-May glory. I meandered along the Ocoee River in heavy traffic, taking time to enjoy the spectacular views. At scenic overlooks I took pictures with my “good camera.” Lunch was a bag of M&M’s —because no one was around to talk me out of it— and a giant Dr. Pepper. I listened to the radio and a couple of podcasts to stay alert as the afternoon wore on and finally arrived at a sheep farm in Northern Georgia.
As I settled in I was struck by the extreme quiet. I silenced my phone and chose not to use the air conditioner. The 1880s cabin was naturally insulated from the summer heat. As my ears adjusted, I realized I could hear the sheep greeting the farmer as he strolled out to tend them. A lone tractor chugged away in a neighboring field. Birdsong grew louder while a dog chased roaming chickens beyond the sheep pens.
It took nearly five hours for my mind to calm down—five hours of pacing and watching sheep graze while the sun arced across the sky toward the eastern mountains. Dinner was a frozen pizza cooked in a skillet on the hot plate since there was no oven in the kitchen. Determined to write, I opened and closed my computer, then opened and closed it again. I sipped a glass of wine and ate, lounging on the porch while the sun sank. At last, realizing my head was clearing, I opened my laptop to write. I wanted to describe my experience in as much detail as possible—the calm, the silence, and the peace.
That night, I slept like a baby. It was eight o’clock the next morning when I woke up. It felt strange to be so rested. There was no chatter: no to-do lists, no bullies in my head telling me my book sucked, no fashion police telling me I shouldn’t walk outside in leggings. I spent the entire day sitting on the porch, editing my book and writing. I wrote about everything I saw: the farmer, his wife working in her garden, his puppy narrowly escaping a snake. I answered a few calls from my kids. A man arrived on a tractor late in the morning, and I watched him bale hay. The machine hummed across the pasture, cutting and dropping rows and rows of perfect rectangles behind it.
Why is this level of mental clarity so difficult to achieve? Granted, I do share my home with five kids, two dogs, and a cancerous grab-bag of electronic devices. That creates a lot of noise, most of it wonderful and fun. Life is full from sunup to sundown and, when the people I love are quiet, the whirrs and beeps of our many gadgets fill the empty spaces.
Though I enjoy all technology has to offer, I sometimes wonder what has been sacrificed. I think of Isaiah 30:15, which says: “In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” It is a wonderful thing to be able to know where my teenage drivers are at any given moment. I can even see how fast they drive. “Dropping in” to any of their bedrooms to tell them dinner is ready is more convenient than yelling up the stairs. Podcasts, music, and my favorite movies playing while I putter around in the kitchen are luxuries I enjoy. But at what cost?
Is the fatigue I battle less the result of mid-life and motherhood and more the consequence of incessant, meaningless input? When life is lived on constant alert, fighting for control, spinning all the plates, who am I really trusting?
That weekend in May turned out to be much more than a writing retreat. It taught me to recognize that periods of quiet are as necessary to my health as water. Though it is difficult to carve out time to allow my mind to rest, I must. Quiet may not even involve the absence of noise, but simply being still, noticing the details of my surroundings, or fully engaging with whoever is in the room. Sometimes I stand at the back window to watch the sunrise before the children stumble downstairs. I take a deep drink of peace, reminded that quietness is a gift of God. I don’t need a special trip to escape the demands of family life. Peace is here and now.