I was recently listening to a podcast in which one of the hosts shared a personal anecdote about his attempt to not listen to music all day. He briefly related how he realized he had music playing almost constantly and found it incredibly difficult to stop listening for one 24-hour period. This experiment reminded me of the countless people I know who work with headphones on or earbuds in all day long. It is almost assumed today that music will have a permanent place in the background of most environments, be it the office, a coffee shop, or anything in between.
The Prevalence of Music
Digital technology affords us unparalleled access to the best music in the world. Today, we can easily pull up an exquisite rendering of our favorite symphony or a moving interpretation of a sacred choral piece simply by commanding the robots in our homes to play it. On the other hand, even ignoring the bad, crass, and immoral music the whole world can access with this technology, it still behooves us to consider how much we listen to music. Like all technology, has this thrust something artificial into human lives? More than that, is this artifice always good or should we limit it?
Humans need quiet. We need times when we can rest from the noise of the world. The music we listen to almost constantly distracts our minds. When we always need music playing, we can lose our ability to live contentedly in times of quiet. The noise becomes our distraction from the world and a form of escapism from our current situation. A preference to listen to music while you work out, drive in the car, or work on a variety of tasks is not a bad thing. Instead, I wonder if we have become addicted to it. Do we need to switch on noise as soon as we wake up, or are we comfortable with starting our days quietly? Like the ever-addictive smartphone, do we turn to music anytime we have a moment of silence or boredom? Or do we welcome the chance to remove excess distraction from our lives?
Silence: Necessary for Prayer
A mind capable and, dare I say, desirous of silence is a sure step toward a mind at peace. The world barrages us with distractions that throw our lives into turmoil. Are we capable of resisting these distractions? Often, prayer is our one true recourse against them. Listening to music can soothe the soul, but constant exposure to music ultimately distracts us from the one thing that is necessary (Luke 10:42). It is God’s Word that saves. During the season of Epiphany, we hear how the Word made flesh, Jesus, is revealed as true God. Music is a wonderful creation that reflects God, but it is not God. Jesus is true God whose death and resurrection rescues us from eternal death.
Ultimately, silence and quiet are necessary for meditation on God’s Word and prayer. The human brain can only handle so many stimuli at once. When your ears are constantly exposed to noise, your brain has little attention left to give to sustained, concentrated contemplation or conversation with God. As people who place our faith in the Word that says “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), we should reevaluate what exactly we are doing without ceasing. Listening to music? Or praying? Music can be a form of meditation and prayer, to be sure. Is that the kind of music we are listening to without ceasing?
Limiting Musical Distraction in Our Own Lives
Consider removing those headphones and earbuds. Save that new album for a time when you can give it your full attention. Try turning to your work wholeheartedly without musical distraction. Instead of constantly inundating your ears with noise, even the most pleasant of noises, spend time in contemplation, meditation, and prayer. Follow Jesus’ example as he retreats from the crowds to pray (Matthew 14:23). Fight the modern world’s call to constant noise and instead revel in the peace that comes from a quiet mind assured of its salvation in Christ.
Rethink your technology usage—from social media to music streaming—with Redeeming Technology: A Christian Approach to Healthy Digital Habits.