Living in a small city with a large family, the only thing in my life that shouts, “Quiet!” is usually me. From the time my family wakes up in the morning to when I shut off the light, my day is a door-slamming, music-blaring, phone-ringing, children-running onslaught of sound.
From cell phones and social media to traffic and television, we have engineered a deafeningly loud world. And not just physically deafening but spiritually deafening too. With so much noise, it’s easy to miss what’s most important. Daily, I find myself seeking a place of stillness, a place where I am better able to think, plan, and act in a way that does the most good while bringing the most glory to God.
The stakes have never been higher. This week, I read author Ann Voskamp’s stark account of visiting Christian and Yezidi women and children fleeing persecution in Iraq. Of nine-year-old girls sold as “wives” by ISIS. Of parents being forced to choose which children to save, which to leave behind. And I can’t live in a world like this, can’t tune out the screams in my head.
I’ll never forget returning to Boston after spending three weeks travelling through Uganda and Kenya to adopt our daughter Ruth. How I ordered a cup of coffee and a doughnut at an airport kiosk and was shocked when the server asked for nearly five dollars. Five dollars? The sum would have saved lives where I’d just come from.
How are we to live in a world of so much suffering?
This week I spoke with a soon-to-be graduate who didn’t feel he could make a difference. I vehemently disagreed. History is full of ordinary individuals who muted all the trifling, irrelevant things vying for their attention to do extraordinary things. Consider Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, a Scottish salmon farmer who, with his brother, loaded up a jeep with aid supplies and joined a convoy to Bosnia during the Balkan conflict. Time magazine recently named this same missionary as one of the most influential people in the world for his program which now feeds millions of school children around the globe.
Consider Asa Kent Jennings, a small-town, New York minister with a twisted back from tuberculosis who arrived in Smyrna, Turkey, one hundred years ago when the Turkish national army began slaughtering Christians. The city was on fire when Jennings assembled a fleet of ships and enlisted the help of the US Navy to evacuate a quarter-million refugees who might otherwise have died during the Armenian genocide.
And consider Janusz Korczak, a Polish pediatrician and children’s author, who refused to abandon 200 orphans when Nazi’s forced them into the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. Repeatedly presented with opportunities to escape, he instead chose to accompany these children onto box cars headed for the Treblinka death camp. While Korczak and the children perished, their story is still being told, most recently in The Book of Aron, to inspire a new generation of heroes.
One key I’ve found to living a purposeful life is to shut out the noise. Or as the apostle Paul wrote, “Make it your goal to live a quiet life,” I Thess. 4:11.
It’s a goal I am still working toward—to live quietly so I can focus on what truly matters, right here, right in my big, noisy family and in my church and in my community while reaching out to those who are far away. My actions may not be recorded in history, but I can make a difference right now.