Sunday afternoon, drizzle patters against the window, damply looking like it wants to make us all wet. The boys are watching a film, hot chocolate in hand and I’m nervously on high alert for spillage on the sofa. Eyes fixed, and ears filled with the sound of Octonaut action and nothing else. Grabbing their attention would mean shouting, waving, probably pausing it and even then it would take a few moments for them to register my presence. Selective listening in action – the only thing they want to hear is where GUP A and Captain Barnacles are headed next.
I sometimes wish I could tune out from some of the many voices that constantly batter my ears. It feels like words are coming at me in every medium, whether it’s social media, the news or simple conversation with friends. Opinions, thoughts and hearsay can be picked up with every glance at a phone screen or during a snatched two minutes over a neighbouring fence. And as I listen, and begin to process, sometimes responding and other times saying nothing, I’m having to weigh up who to believe, who to listen to, who to take seriously.
A national or global crisis can increase the volume even more. Ears and eyes glued to the news channels as we wait for our leaders to outline the latest statistics, the plans of action and what our future might look like. We hang on every word. But then we read a different article, we hear a conflicting report, we see our neighbours living by seemingly different rules, and we wonder who to believe. Who’s word is authoritative? Who’s word stands when others are replaced by the next news cycle?
But then the next disaster hits, and previous crises are knocked off the front pages and they are filled with opinion, comment and demand in relation to the current situation. With every new influx of news comes the feeling that I need to respond, sometimes with silence but sometimes not. And so I process, try to discern and work out where I stand in relation to all I’m hearing.
There are moments in my days at home with my children when it sounds like I have more than two little people to look after. The noise they create – whether shouting for me, conducting a ‘show’ to one another or chasing each other around the house – is remarkable, and drowns out any shouts from my husband working downstairs in his office.
It can sometimes feel like we’re faced with a wall of sound, drowning out even our own thoughts, as voices shout for our attention. Somehow we have to decide who to listen to, and which words carry more weight than others as we forge our path through life. Angst can quickly creep to the surface if people we respect differ in opinion, or if we find ourselves in a different camp to our friends and family. The question of who we listen to, and which word wins, becomes important and has far-reaching consequences.
The thought of weighty, winning words drags me back to my old friend Isaiah, that long dead prophet in the Bible who has been my study friend for most of 2020.
‘The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.’ (40:8)
Amidst the noise, voices and buzz of life, maybe it’s about tuning my ears to this lasting, long-standing word over others.