After being gone for a couple of years at college I returned home for a visit. It was so good to be back in my small hometown with corn fields, clean air and a slower pace than Los Angeles. My first night home, every couple of hours I was awakened by the rumble of a train and the blast of its whistle from across the cornfield. I was raised in this house for years and was not awakened by the trains. Why now? Because I wasn’t used to it. The years I’d slept in this bedroom made me immune to the sound of the trains. It was white noise to me… unnoticeable background noise. But now, unused to the trains, I was fully aware of each one. Thankfully, over a few days, I re-acclimated and slept through the night.
This concept of the train has played out in different areas of my life over the years – everything from gaining weight to traffic noise. There are habits and experiences that we become so accustomed to that we are really no longer aware of them. Sometimes this a good thing. I brush my teeth a couple of times a day without having to plan or think about it. That is a good thing because I don’t thoroughly enjoy brushing my teeth…I just do it.
But there are other areas that we can become immune to that are not good for us. I have a very dear friend who went home to Oklahoma for Christmas our freshman year of college. When she returned she told me a shocking (to her) story. She was telling her mom about how the dry cleaners near our dorm had shrunk a bunch of her clothes. Her mother looked at her quizzically and said, “Honey, they didn’t shrink your clothes, you got fat!” The truth was that almost every evening after a night class we would go to the local market and get a couple of pieces of deep fried chicken. Yes, it was awesome, tasty and fun. That habit created disturbing results that we weren’t even paying attention to.
What is it that you have become so accustomed to that you don’t even notice it? Are you relying on a glass of wine every night just to cope with your days? Have you settled into the habit of talking bad about people near you without realizing the damage you’re causing to you and others? Have you gotten lazy in the ways you show care and love to your spouse and children? Do you no longer care for your own mind, body and soul?
Another facet of the “train whistle syndrome” is that we can miss the important things around us. Do you take time to recognize the beauty and blessing around you? Are you grateful for the people who love you, the resources that keep you comfortable and the hope that draws you forward?
Take time today to look and consider the things in your life that should be recognized. Are you distracted by issues you can’t change and you just let them keep you irritated? Are you overlooking blessings in your life and failing to embrace the goodness that is so present for you? Whichever direction the train whistle takes you, start today to own the stuff of your life and choose to make it better.
Too often we get used to patterns in our life that are not good for us, and sometimes are even destructive. As a ‘woman of a certain age’ there are so many things that I should no longer attempt. Some I couldn’t do if I wanted to. When circumstances change it’s a great time to assess our habits to determine if they are adding to our life or detracting.
One area that has always been a struggle for me is food. I can feel like I’m doing well with controlling my calorie intake and that it must be my metabolism that keeps me so well padded. But if I begin to log what I eat I discover something amazing and horrifying – I eat more than I’m even aware of, which may contribute to my ‘padding.’ Big duh.
In 2 Kings 13:5,6 we read “Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Arameans; and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly. Nevertheless they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam which he caused Israel to sin, but walked in them; the sacred pole also remained in Samaria.”
The greater context is that Israel had a series of very unholy kings who led the nation to idol worship and rebellion against God’s ways. God repeatedly sent prophets and rescuers, which sometimes worked for a while but then they slid back into bad practices. In biblical terms, they sinned against God.
A cursory study of the sin question provides two basic categories (this is a very elementary way to view it, but it helps our discussion): Sin is doing what you know to be wrong. Sin is not doing what you know to be right.
Did Israel know that some of their actions or inactions were offensive to God? Were the ‘sins of Jeroboam’ obvious or were people just doing life as their parents and grandparents had done? Was their sin willful disobedience or was it ignorance and failure to pursue knowing the truth rather than assumption? Were there sins that were train whistles…noticeable to others but they had become so used to it that they no longer noticed?
It causes me to wonder how many things in my own life have become familiar or permissible but actually do not honor God or offer me my fullest life. I cannot rely on my own knowledge or understanding. I need to depend on God’s truth so I can see what is true of my heart, my thoughts and my life. What am I “sleeping through”? How will I respond?
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.
7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
8 Then you will have healing for your body
and strength for your bones.
2 Timothy 2:19
But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his, and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.”