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Use this Lent to check the noise level in your life

The following story appeared in the March 10 Idaho Catholic Register.

Jay Wonacott

On Tuesdays, I have been carpooling to work with my eldest daughter, Mary. During one of our commutes, I asked her what she was giving up for Lent. She told me she was giving up her social media accounts. She noticed how distracting social media was becoming for her, and she wanted to create some positive silence in her life so she could hear God speaking to her during Lent.

Along with being proud of her, I was reminded of a podcast I had heard recently where the hosts were talking about all the noise in our post-modern world. The podcasters referred to the rich insights about noise in C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters.”

“The Screwtape Letters” is a book-length dialogue between senior demon, Screwtape, and junior demon, Worm-wood, on how best to tempt humanity and confound the plan of God. In Chapter 22, Screwtape is writing to Wormwood about his hatred of music and silence and the need to promote noise in the universe.

He writes: Music and silence – How I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell – though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express – no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise – Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile – Noise, which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth.”

During this Lenten season, our hope is to explore the great areas of music and silence in our own lives, so that we don’t buy the lies of Screwtape, who wants us to embrace the noise of the world so we don’t have to examine our qualms, scruples and desires, or to find God in the silence.

Music and silence are the primary ways humanity can engage in the divine. Positive silence is the silence that fills us with a space to be able to hear the voice of God. We are reminded of a passage from 1 Kings 19:12: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” God comes to us in the gentle whisper, but if our lives are filled with noise, how are we to hear Him speak to our hearts? Music and silence offer order, melody and rhythm. Noise is disordered, chaotic and arrhythmic.

I was glad to hear that my daughter was confronting the noise in her own life. In a recent article in the blog for the Institute for Family Studies, researcher Jean Twenge writes about the prevalence of depression particularly among teenage girls as it relates to access and use of social media.

Twenge quotes from a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that says nearly one out of three teen girls seriously considered suicide in 2021. The report goes on to say that teen depression doubled between 2011 and 2019 even before the start of the pandemic, and emergency room admissions for self-harm quadrupled between 2010 and 2021 among 10- to 14-year-old girls.

Twenge writes that we “should acknowledge that social media must have something to do with why so many teen girls are miserable. The growth of social media and other technologies in the 2010s radically changed teens’ lives. They started spending a lot more time online and less time in-person with friends and less time sleeping. Over the years since 2012, social media platforms became more and more engrossing, with girls fighting for likes and followers on Instagram and Snapchat and being drawn into the powerful algorithms of TikTok.”

Twenge continues, “So why don’t girls give up social media? Partially because the sites’ algorithms are de-signed to keep users on the app for as long as possible, and it’s even harder for teens to stop given their developmental stage. Many teens have also told me they don’t know how. All of their friends use social media so they would feel left out if they didn’t use it, despite the negative content that is harming them.”

Twenge advocates for parental involvement in regulating teens’ consumption of social media, which is clearly having devastating effects on the lives of many young people because of its addictive qualities.

On the other side of the timeline, we are seeing a different kind of noise among older and aging adults. I want to call this the “white noise” of isolation and loneliness.

The CDC cites a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) that states, “more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss.”

I visit an assisted living home about once a week, and it is common to hear stories of residents who receive no visitors or any outside interaction with friends or family. These people fill their lives with the interaction that comes from the steady noise of their televisions and radios. It is a regular occurrence to walk by a resident’s room to find the television blaring in order to fill the empty space. Unfortunately, too much silence without community, fellowship and human interaction becomes a negative silence, which robs people of their inner peace, so they fill this space with the distraction of human voices entertaining them or selling them something on QVC.

Screwtape proclaims, “We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth.”

As we continue through this Lent, let us check the noise level in our lives. Let us roll back some of the strides of the Evil One and confound the demons by putting down our cell phones and switching off our televisions and radios before they start to consume us.

I encourage you to take a friend to coffee or lunch, go to the Stations of the Cross and attend your church’s Lenten meal. Go visit a lonely person in an assisted living home or call someone on the phone. Let us embrace the positive silence that follows genuine human contact that is healing and life giving. If we quell the noise, we will hear God speaking to us.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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