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Noise. Lots of noise.

That's my first review of the new outlet mall in Little Rock. There is a lot of noise there. True, great bargains ($17 put 3 new pairs of boy's jeans and 1 new pair of dad jeans in the house!), but overall the place was noisy and chaotic.

Yet it wasn't just there which was noisy. We went from the outlet mall over to David's Burgers (excellent burgers. Too many fries for the new pants to fit). It was noisy as all get out in there, too. And then it dawned on me...Kroger was noisy earlier. So are many other places.

It's not really the shopping plazas of this world that are the centers of the noise. It's really our lives. We live noisy, always needing something in the background, more than many of us would want to admit. For some reason, we need the noise. It shields us from intimacy, for one thing. And it keeps our minds from focusing, from thinking through life around us.

How does the noise shield us from intimacy? Quite frankly, there is just no good way to hold a conversation in the midst of all the chaos. Since we cannot do that, we cannot really draw near to one another in the midst of our days. In a shopping center, it drives the decision-making process because you can't really talk about it. Do we need this? 

I have no idea. But we bought it, because we couldn't hear to talk about it.

The intimacy damage is worse away from the shopping. We cannot draw near to one another through the normal course of life, and then we have to force out opportunities for quiet. Which, in turn, cost us more time and effort than living the low-noise life we could have started with in the first place!

We see the noise problem amplified in our relationships. We start and end with noise--dating in movie theaters and living life together with TVs on at full volume. Then we discover that we don't know each other all that well, after all.

Why? Because noise interferes with communication. That's, essentially, what noise is--something from the background that prevents clear messaging from one source to another. What makes it a factor in our focus? The fact that we have to mentally sift out noise from what we are trying to hear, or what we are trying to focus on.

Take the crowded restaurant as an example. Not only can you not hold a personal conversation, because you'd have to hold it so loud it will never be personal, but you cannot even clearly (or calmly) discuss what your meal choices will be. The noise drives you to just quickly order combo meals you don't need, add-ons you didn't really want--all because of the hurry-up sense of clutter.

What do we do about it?

First, might I suggest that we need to clear the noise in our own homes. I'm all for a little background music. But turn off the television and actually talk to one another. And don't throw out the tired cliche that kids stay wrapped up in their phones to the disrespect of their elders. Who bought the phones? And besides---did they bring the phone because you won't look away from the TV or the newspaper? Make a commitment that the line around the table is unbreachable by distractions

Second, clear the noise in your close-knit community. For Christians, that includes your church. Ever think about how much noise we make? We start music or play videos constantly, filling all the background. Most of the time we do this even during an organized worship service, claiming it's about "mood," but it really keeps our ears full of something. 

Third, be ready for the noise out in the wider world. Be strengthened in your relationships and then be ready to take a step back from it. You may have places, like work, that you just can't get out of it. But at places like the store? Take a step back, pull out of it. Don't add to it.

And then be a little patient with those who are dealing with it. The way the noise seeps in when you're in a store 20 minutes? Figure what it's like being there for 8 hours, and dial down just a bit your yelling at those who do that.

Beyond that, seek to be someone who brings calm in the chaos. Not in a self-pious jerky fashion, but by being calm. Speaking calmly. Responding calmly. 

The noise creeps in. It affects more than you realize it does, because your brain is still processing all of it. Don't let it destroy you or pull backwards at your joy in life.


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