Try this. Close your eyes. Turn off all noise and set the phone aside. Be alone. Then make a guess how long you sat there. 2 minutes, 5 minutes? I can guarantee you it was more like 30 seconds that felt like 2 minutes.
Silence and solitude are two spiritual disciplines that bring vitality and life to our relationship with God. Much fruit can be born from these disciplines, yet they are probably some of the most neglected in Christian faith.
Our spirits are suffering from too much noise and not enough rest, moreover, our souls are literally crushed under the weight of our inability to stop and be silent.
We don’t like to be still and what do they say about silence? Right, it’s deafening.
There is a definition of silence and solitude found in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero that fits the context of these two things as spiritual disciplines.
Solitude is the practice of being absent from people and things to attend to God.
Silence is the practice of quieting every inner and outer voice to attend to God.
I began awhile back incorporating these disciplines into my week and schedule, and I am still working to incorporate them regularly into each of days. I am getting better. However, it is super hard. I sat at the park this morning and had such a difficulty focusing. My thoughts kept leading me astray. I finally turned my music off, closed my eyes, and finally a few minutes later I was able to shut everything out. And I began to find my way. The way to Him - my God who offers sweet peace to our frazzled minds.
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, Is. 30:15
I know there have been many times I was simply unwillingly. And it wasn't too long ago that I could barely stand to sit still or quiet unless I was sleeping or reading. To sit completely still with nothing in my hands, it's difficult. To turn off all noise until the "silence is deafening" is not a simple task. Yet, I don't want to miss out on the salvation and strength of my God.
There are a great many benefits in these disciplines of silence and solitude.
John Piper states: One benefit of silence is simply searching the depths of our own souls, asking what our blind spots have become in the rush of everyday life. In the busyness, is there anything important I’m neglecting or repressing? How am I doing in my various roles? What needs refocusing?
Yet, these are the very questions that tend to be the reason we don’t. It is quite difficult for many of us to be still, let alone be silent. If and when we finally do stop and sit still, we need music, we even need the noise of our racing thoughts.
There was a time in my life long ago (much before kids), I would turn on the TV simply for the noise of it. I think sometimes we are afraid if it is too silent then we will no longer be able to drown out our fears, disappointments, and worries. Those things we most want to avoid will become a deafening noise to our ears. Our instinctive response is to protect ourselves by shutting it out and shutting it down. And how best to do this by avoiding solitude and silence. Yet, we need to run headlong into these difficult things. Acknowledge them and bring them to Christ, because that is where healing begins.
Many of these things are the same reasons we avoid solitude. Before I begin to practice things, I was often never alone. I had three children and a husband, and I am a Pastor. And, although, it can be wonderful to be surrounded by people all of the time - it is not healthy and does nothing to help you grow. We all need moments, several moments, throughout our days where we - like Christ - pull away from the crowd and pray.
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:16
Many of us are not willing to stop long enough for God to speak. He longs to cut through the noise of our lives. We need to just stop. Put the phones down, set the laptops aside, let the home projects be for a bit, walk away from the people, and STOP. Step away, be replenished and find rest.
Choosing one scripture or passage to meditate or think upon is also beneficial during moments of solitude. There is great fruit that comes from extended times of studying a passage of scripture. Yet, beyond that if we must “hide His Word in our hearts”, we must regularly be filling our minds and souls with His Word. One of the best ways to do this is to incorporate His Word throughout your day by thinking and meditating upon His Word. The meditation of scripture is a beautiful discipline all on its own.
Most importantly, when silence and solitude are incorporated disciplines that are centered on our Father - deep intimacy is formed with Christ and our lives bear much fruit when regularly abiding in Him. We become rooted, established in Him. Which offers the sustaining grace we so desperately need to love God and others well.
We should approach the disciplines of silence and solitude as rhythms in our day, rather a specific formulaic moment we carve out. These rhythms should be a soft balance of intentionality paired with creativity. A rhythm insinuates a depth of feeling, pattern, and consistency. Like the melody of your favorite song when planned and prepared lyrics are sung, then the lyrics cease and you find yourself moving freely to the open space music where no words are sung to guide you. Yet you feel the rhythm so deeply that you can’t help, but create your own song. In the rhythms of silence and solitude, the intentionality offers consistency and discipline. While creativity allows us to approach God in regular moments throughout our day rather than “getting our fill” at one time - just hoping it will last through the day. If we are walking deeply in Christ, we have intentional and planned moments with Christ - then there are these beautiful spontaneous moments throughout the day when we stop and feel the rhythm of His heartbeat. We sense we just need a moment with our Creator. We rest and we are quiet.
The disciplines of silence and solitude cannot and should not replace our regular times of focused and centered prayer. Or the regular study and meditation of His Word. They act in supplement to these ever important disciplines that should be a regular part of our week.
We must make time in each of our days to incorporate these moments. Whether it is 2, 3, or 4 times a day for 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 20 minutes - the key is to let it be a natural rhythm that flows out of a deep desire to know God more, to hear more from Him, and to bare more of our soul to Him. The key is to stop approaching our time with God as one specific space in our day - let it be more.
It cannot be a matter of adding another item on our to do list or a ritual we factor into our schedules. The very act of solitude and silence speaks to surrender. It declares a longing to abide with the Father, to stop all actions and noise and listen and be WITH God. Therefore, it must be an overflow of the inner work of Christ in one’s life. The more He works in me, the more space he fills in my heart, and the more I want and need to be with Him.
Why should we implement these disciplines? We must. In Colossians 3 it says to "set your mind on things above, not on earthly things". That if we set our mind on the Spirit we will have life and peace. In Isaiah 26, it states that He keeps in perfect peace those whose mind is stayed on Him because they trust in Him. We are called to walk in the Spirit, yet we know our flesh rages war against our Spirit. The only way this is truly possible is to be WITH Him.
How do we practically implement this into our day? Peter Scazzero in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality discusses these disciplines, and offers great suggestions. Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline is another good one. There are many resources out there, but ultimately you must pray and ask God to give you wisdom in how He will lead you. He made you, created you - He knows what will speak most to you, what will be the most life-giving. It will change with the seasons, it will founded in who you are and what God knows is best for you. But, He will be faithful to give you your own road map.
And remember, as Scazzero states, “The purpose of these disciplines is to remember God and commune with him all through our days.”
How can I be filled with more of God - more of His Spirit? Simple, by making more room in my heart for Him to dwell. Centering my life around Him, regularly surrendering my soul, setting my mind upon Him, inviting Him into each part of my day - this makes room for Him to dwell in me.