Sensory overload


Having been born in New York, it’s tough for me at times to acknowledge that I really don’t like it there. Don’t get me wrong, my family that still live there make it a most cherished place, but aside from that, there’s really not much there that I enjoy. Perhaps it’s a sign of my advancing age, but regardless it is what it is.

I was in New York City last week for a few days for business meetings and a conference. Not surprisingly, it was just as I’d left it the last time I was there a few months ago. Overwhelming. I stayed nearby to Times Square and traveled through it multiple times as we’d walk to meetings in several places within proximity. I also had the blessing of having coffee with my uncle on my final day there and we sat at a table outside a coffee place in the midst of all the hysteria.

That’s what Times Square seems like to me in a nutshell … hysteria. There’s so much going on. There’s so much to see you can’t see anything. There’s so much to hear you can’t hear anything. There’s so much to smell … never mind, you can smell all of it unfortunately. Individual sounds, images, and smells exist, but they’re lost in the blend of sensory pollution. I’m sure many of you might give me the standard response to my assertions: “What are you talking about? That’s what makes me love it there! The energy is infectious!” Well, there we differ my friends. All but the infectious part.   There’s probably tons of ways to be infected there. 😎

But this sensory overload got me to thinking about the sensory overload in our lives. The sights, sounds, smells, and other seemingly impervious distractions that keep us from sensing the most important sound, that of our God’s voice in the midst of the chaos of normal life. It was the question that tugged at me as I read through Psalms 95 – 106 and Proverbs 16 and 17. Proverbs 16:20-22:

Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful. The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive. Discretion is a life-giving fountain to those who possess it, but discipline is wasted on fools.

Listening to instruction sounds right enough, and trusting in the Lord as well. I’d love to pursue wisdom from my understanding, but in the midst of the voice of God can sometimes arise a host of disrupting sounds, sights, and stimuli. How do we hear God’s voice among the many voices, noises, distractions, distinctions, and preferences? It’s not that He’s incapable of drowning out the distractions (He is most certainly capable) but our propensity to allow conflicting input is at times insurmountable. The key is not God’s ability to cut through the noise, it’s our desire to hone in on His voice that makes all the difference.

Life is noisy, visually-overwhelming and stinky at times. I can personally attest – at least for me – that I get sidetracked easily. Even just sitting down to write each week is challenging as I try to focus on writing what the Lord puts on my heart. So many thoughts, to-do’s, and interruptions fly by seemingly at light-speed and pollute my attention. So no wonder why the same can happen when seeking God’s voice or when God’s voice seeks us.

Of course, there’s an additional adverse aspect that comes into play.   We have an enemy whose sole desire is to pull our attention away from God’s voice. He’ll throw every distraction possible at us, and he has an unfortunate advantage of knowing which ones work most effectively on you and on me, individually. Couple that with the woes of life and the natural noise that occurs, and is it any wonder we can focus at all?

But we can … God CAN unequivocally cut through the commotion and reach us. He can overcome the overload and can penetrate the pollution. In fact, if we participate readily, there is nothing that can stop God from reaching us.

We have to fine-tune our listening skills. It’s one thing to try to have a conversation in the midst of Times Square on a busy night (is there a night there that isn’t busy???), but if we want to have intimate communication, we have to move to a different locale. So, in listening for God’s voice, we have to position ourselves in the right place. Sure, God can cut through to communicate to us, but our ability to receive the message is severely impaired if we’re not in the right place to receive it. Think about in the old days (those of you that had old days) when we were trying to watch a TV and the reception was terrible. We had to monkey around with those rabbit ears (“rabbit ears” was what we called the antennae at the top of the TV – and yeah, that was an intentional dual-animal entendre) to be able to see a remotely clear picture, and that was the best we usually got … remotely. The issue wasn’t the signal coming from the broadcast center, the issue was the reception on our side.   The same is true for communicating with God. We need to tune in the right way and be in a good receiving place.

So what is impeding the reception on our end? For me, it can often be a situation where I just simply haven’t tried to adjust the rabbit ears … I just left them in the same position assuming the reception would be fine. But like in the TV analogy, my ability to receive the signal is contingent on me changing the way I receive it, moving my antennae in the right way to be able to receive the message. Maybe it’s where I’m trying to listen. Maybe it’s how I’m trying to listen. Maybe it’s when I’m trying to listen. Maybe it’s whether I’m trying to listen. Either way, my part is to change my antennae to receive.

There’s another, simpler, solution at times. Computer support technicians site that sometimes the most important solutions to customers’ problems are the simplest. Like making sure the computer’s on.   Or making sure the power supply is connected (i.e., the thing is plugged in). How about us? If we’re trying to listen for God’s voice, are we even on or plugged in? That is, are we connected to Him in the first place? Trying to listen means knowing Who to listen to, and being close enough to hear. If you aren’t plugged in to God, that’s my prayer for you, and that’s the first and most important step.

This week, let’s pray for an ability to cut through the noise of life and to ask God to remove the external sensory overload, and to overload us only with the sense of His presence and His voice.

Soli Deo gloria!



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