Due to a traumatic childhood, noise has always made Mandy Gill anxious. But, as a Christian, she is learning that true peace comes not from the home we live in, or the quiet around us, but from somewhere else
Two months and 15 days ago, I moved house. I know the exact number of days because I have never been so aware of how slowly time passes when you’re struggling.
I moved from a home with a family I loved, but where a close family member with severe mental health struggles would regularly scream at me. I coped relatively well, or so I thought, until I moved out.
Initially I kept busy ordering furniture and building a home. The activities kept my mind occupied. It wasn’t until I stopped that the torment began.
I had moved into a beautiful, terraced cottage in one of the nicest areas in the city, but I soon realised that the walls of my new home were paper thin. I could hear my neighbours moving around their house, doors creaking, people talking, loud TV programmes. It would sometimes reduce me to tears.
My childhood was turbulent: domestic violence and alcoholism left me traumatised. Loud, noisy environments are a very real stressor. I have spent my life trying to find the perfect, peaceful environment.
In search of silence
I pick quiet hotel rooms when on holiday. I choose housemates that appear stable and calm. I live in places where my room doesn’t have too many external walls. I’ve constantly sought out silent spaces, going on Christian retreats and doing anything within my power to find – and hang onto - some peace and quiet amid what is probably the noisiest modern world we have ever lived in.
One night, I had a panic attack after hearing my neighbour’s front door slam repeatedly. Unable to sleep, I wondered if I struggled with misophonia (noise sensitivity anxiety). Then, I started to think about God’s peace, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and how I could get it.
Throughout my life, my peace (or lack of it) has been determined by noise levels. If there was actual physical silence, I would be at peace – except that even this didn’t always work, as I would become anxious, waiting for a noise to break the silence and take my temporary peace away.
In search of silence, and the peace that I thought went with it, I would take long daily walks, staring longingly at detached houses and dreaming of a home with no neighbours to disturb me. I would stare at pictures of mansions in magazines and imagine how perfect my life would be if I lived in a home like that.
During this time, God began revealing something to me. I began to hear of people who, despite building their perfect ‘forever’ homes, were not happy: A couple on a TV show who split up due to the stress of building their grand design. A family who had to rent out the home they had built when the father lost his job. I visited my aunt one time at her gorgeous house and heard the neighbours opening their cupboard drawers. Multiple friends told me how they could hear their neighbour’s TV’s, karaoke machines and even - how should I put this - night time noises. It did not cause them the same levels of stress and anxiety that it caused me but it was, I began to see, universal.
The perfect home
I began to wonder if finding the perfect home would solve my problems after all. Did it even exist this side of heaven? After all, if things were perfect here, what would we have to look forward to? And if anyone should know how temporary and meaningless the pursuit of a dream home on earth is, as a Christian, shouldn’t it be me?
Through verses such as James 1:2-3 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, I realised that I was lacking the joy that Christians are called to cultivate and possess in all circumstances. After so much trauma and hardship, joy is not always my natural default. But more recently, I have begun to ask the Holy Spirit for a joy and peace that isn’t swayed by and destroyed by my circumstances. I have begun to try and practice gratitude and remember that the presence of God’s peace does not require complete silence or total isolation from neighbours, noise and other people. It does not depend on a perfect location or a dream home. It is not easy for a natural worrier, control freak and silence seeker; it takes a daily dying to myself.
For now, I’ve kept my subscription to Architectural Digest, but these days I try not to believe the lie that the peace and stability I have craved my entire life can come from anything other than the real source of peace, the prince of peace, Jesus.