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Let's face it, we live in a culture that loves noise. Just look at the lengths we go to avoid silence at all costs: We carry MP3 players in our pockets and cram speaker buds into our ears; we install TVs in virtually every public place except church (so far); and we carry devices that let us text, tweet, IM and, yes, talk to one another. Can we teach our kids better?
Exercise 1: Be still
"Be still." This famous line from Psalm 46 has inspired mystics and meditation-prayer practitioners for centuries. Read Psalm 46 and explore. Identify and describe the sources of "noise" in the psalm. By contrast, how is the presence of God generally characterized? In this context, what would "be still" in verse 10 mean? "Still" as opposed to what? Why is it in stillness that we may better know God? Turning ahead to our own day and your lives, what are the sources of noise that distract you from God? What does "be still" mean for you? Why is it easier to know that God is God when you are still? How can you incorporate stillness into your life? Into your family life? For your children?
Exercise 2: Enter the silence
Children naturally adopt the habits, likes, dislikes and attitudes of their parents. So if a mom and dad are constantly in motion, surrounded by busyness and never sitting still, guess what the kids will be like? Yup. Crazy busy. So do a quietness inventory: Do you seek out moments of quiet and silence in your life? Why or why not? When do you have time to just sit and be? How many hours or minutes a day are you totally "unplugged" with no form of entertainment or communication: no cell phone, MP3 player, CD player, radio, TV, etc.? How often do you engage in activities, hobbies or games that don't require electricity or battery power? Reflecting on the foregoing, are you someone who enjoys quiet or avoids it? What kind of example do you think you are setting for your children and grandchildren? What would you like to improve?
Exercise 3: Ask your grandma and grandpa
Older members of your community or family can help you develop quiet time. After all, they grew up when life wasn't so busy and there were fewer distractions in life. Ask the senior citizens in your life how they spent their time when they were kids. Or better yet, ask your children to talk to the senior citizens in your family or circle of friends (both will benefit from the interaction). Talk to your children about what they learned, and then help them to spend time being a kid "like Grandma or Grandpa" was!
Exercise 4: Designated quiet time
Many communities observe quiet time. A college dormitory may have quiet hours to encourage studying. An apartment building may have quiet hours to keep the peace and respect the sleep habits of most people. What stresses and noise currently afflict your family life? Specifically? Can you share? What are the sources of noise? How would a regular, structured quiet time positively affect your family life? If small children grew up with a regular family quiet time, how might that affect their ability to be balanced and flexible amid the challenges of life?
For action: Develop guidelines for family quiet time. What is allowed, what isn't allowed, etc? Then share the suggestion by way of an article in your congregation newsletter or Sunday bulletin.
Exercise 5: Unplug the TV
The Nielson Co., which tracks TV ratings, determined last year that children 2 to 5 watch 32 hours of programs a week. Children from 6 to 11 watch 28 hours a week. Although children may be quiet while watching TV, it doesn't qualify as quiet time because their minds receive the excitement, noise and hype of TV marketing. Moreover, TV watching doesn't involve creative play, social interaction, physical activity or problem solving that are important elements of a balanced life. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one or two hours of quality television for older children and no television for those under 2. How many hours of television do you watch in a given week? How many hours do your children watch? Do you supervise their viewing choices? Are there TV turnoff times? Do you have family activities that don't involve TV, movies or electronic games? How can you do better?
• Consider limiting TV watching for your children to the American Academy of Pediatrics guideline of one to two hours a day. Review a program schedule with your children to help them decide which shows to watch. Provide non-media alternatives for them to spend their time, such as board games, jigsaw puzzles, arts and crafts, and reading.
• Set TV-free family evenings, when family members do something together such as take a walk, play charades, etc.
Exercise 6: Church time
I've heard people say that church is the only place where they can experience quiet. Quiet? Amid the prayers, hymns, sermon, etc.? Yes, because church provides a respite from the constant noise and busyness of the world outside. If you aren't doing so, take your children to church regularly. Even if they fidget or would rather play with their dolls or Legos, they are still sitting quietly. And enjoy some of that time for yourself too.
Exercise 7: Build a quiet time tool kit
Providing an enjoyable quiet time takes some planning. Do you have resources for quiet time activities in your house? Some are obvious — jigsaw puzzles, coloring books and crayons, construction paper, board games — but some may not be — a cookie mix for a family made snack or a trunk of old clothes for dress-up.
For action: Look through your house for obvious quiet time activities. List them and keep it handy for designated quiet times. If you think your house could use more games, puzzles, crafts, etc., suggest gifts of time activities for birthday or Christmas presents. Take an inventory of the things in the house that could be used for quiet time activities. Get creative.
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