This past Sunday afternoon, for the first time in 47 days, the radio was on while I was driving. There was some song playing – I really did not recognize who it was. I did not mind the music itself. It’s simply that after nearly seven weeks of driving in radio silence, the music seemed oddly out of place.
One of the two Lenten disciplines I took up this year was to drive in silence – no music, no news, no background noise. I am not really sure why I chose that angle to deepen my discipleship this Lent. I have rather enjoyed listening to the talk and news on CBC radio or tuning into one of several regional radio stations. Particularly after some of the late night meetings, having the radio on provided an opportunity for my brain to go in a different direction, to unwind while driving home. On days where I am playing chauffeur to our kids, the talk shows and news updates have allowed me to listen in on conversations impacting the world: Ukraine, Syria, Egypt. Thanks to the antics of nearby politicians and celebrities, I’ve been able to talk with my kids about the importance of character and what can happen when we don’t guard our character. The news has also ushered us into numerous conversations about world events – natural disasters, war, economics – that have lasted well beyond the car ride home and even spilled into their dinner and bedtime prayers. Without negating or belittling these benefits of radio-on-driving, I turned off the radio for Lent and entered into a season of driving in silence.
That decision turned out to be more powerful than I anticipated. The first week or so involved a lot of catching myself mindlessly reaching for the radio on as I sat in the car. I needed to continually remind myself that this would be a good discipline for me. By the end of the second week, I was less fidgety and preoccupied in the car. When driving by myself, I would slip into a space of remembering conversations that had happened in the last week, wondering about people I had not seen in a while, and noticing more of the buildings and homes I was driving by. When driving with others, I was asking more questions about them, especially of our kids and what was exciting, or unexpected, or frustrating in their day. A month into Lent and I had realized that the urge to “reach for the radio” usually came when I started thinking about a situation with conflict or tension in it, or when I needed to apologize to someone. In the silence the past few weeks, I’ve reflected more on how I miss my Dad and on how I would like to be more deliberate in the way I engage at home and with friends. I have found there is a deeper awareness of the Spirit emerging as well, not simply when I am driving, but throughout my day.
The radio silence has become a gift for which I am thankful.
When the radio came on Easter afternoon, it took me back a bit. There was the legalistic impulse – “Quick, turn it off! You can’t listen to it” – and I had to consciously tell my hand to stay on the steering wheel. Lent is over and the disciplined space of driving in silence is done. But now I find myself wondering, “What do I do now that the noise can return?”
Yes, I know: I could continue to drive in silence. And for the most part, I have allowed the silence to linger over the past few days. But I am not really seeking permission or blessing in asking that question. What I am really getting at is what happens when you discover that the voluntary disciplines of Lent actually bring about change within you? If such a small adjustment – like driving in radio silence for 6+ weeks – can impact the way I relate to my kids, respond to grief, and encourage others, what other small adjustments could I make?
I guess what I am realizing again is that spiritual growth – discipleship – seems to flourish in the small moments and in the quiet spaces that are carved into the middle of the hectic routines we live in. When Lent began, I certainly did not anticipate so much to come out of the silence – to find that silence was a generous and gracious host, extending hospitality to me in the midst of travelling around town. But as I look back from this side of Easter, I realize that’s what Lent was intended to do: to form us through a different pattern, so that when Easter arrives, we are ready to enter a new way of living than the what we had when Lent began.