When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. (Psalm 4:4, NRSV)
While I find too much noise disturbing, I often find silence even more disturbing. (Let’s face it, I’m one disturbed individual.) My problem with silence is that I rarely find it silent. You see, I hear voices. More specifically, I hear a voice. It sounds like how I imagine Darth Vader sounds (I may be the only living person with bipolar who has yet to see Stars Wars.)
When I’m not hearing the voice, I often have what my psychiatrist calls “loud thoughts,” which are random disturbances in my thought pattern that is like traveling with about a dozen small children crammed in a tiny space – like the size of my head.
While I now struggle with silence, I am also a person who has often craved quietness to nourish my spiritual life. I used to make regular visits to monasteries for self-directed silent retreats where I spoke to no one (and no one spoke to me) for up to a week.
For some time now, the noises and voices in my head have robbed me of this nourishing quietness. Medication takes some of the sharp edge off this, but it remains troubling to me that I can’t even count on the sanctuary of my mind to find a quiet place.
Through it all, however, God has helped me settle my soul, leading me to desired havens at just the right time, whether it be with a counselor who has a peaceful, engaging presence or a family member who says just the right word to soothe my anxiety. Lately, as I pray, I listen to uplifting music, that speaks to me like a familiar friend. As I listen, words and sentences, thoughts and ideas come to mind (from beyond the lyrics) that could be God’s way of speaking to me just as it is my way of speaking to God.
One thing I do to tune out the voice and loud thoughts is listen to audio books at night as I lay down for sleep. There is something soothing about hearing a good reader recite classic poetry, tell a good story, or reflect on Biblical truth.
I do find, however, that I miss the nourishment of quiet reflection. I worry that if God were to try to speak to me, I would be busy listening to someone else. So, when I’m doing better I try to wean myself of the audio. As the noise in my mind wears down, I turn off the audio and tune my mind back into my heart for a good dose of meditative quiet.
I enjoy these seasons where God’s promised reward comes to me –
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)