Most of the time, I struggle with silence.
If I’m home by myself on a Saturday morning cleaning or folding laundry, I like to have music, or a movie, or podcast going. If I’m driving around town, it’s music, or an audiobook, or a podcast. My natural bent is not to welcome silence and stillness. After a long, stressful day, I want to watch a funny or adventurous movie with my husband. I don’t naturally enjoy the quiet.
But alas, He is changing me.
It started as a slightly desperate desire for stillness after a long, intense workday.
Then I read a book about prayer that calls me deeper into God’s Presence.
Then I began to pray for fresh desire for His words and thoughts, changing what I enjoy listening to.
And I discovered great delight in the quiet of solitude.
In the quiet, we are more likely to hear His words, from past study or something new.
In the unhurried, we create space to center our hearts on His nature, the fruit of His Spirit.
In moments of solitude, we can be our honest selves, laying out the day or details before Him.
We see this in the way Jesus chose to live, don’t we?
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16
Jesus lived in a very open-handed way, seeking constant fellowship with His Father, to see what His Father did and do the same.
For Him, and also for us, solitude can be an avenue for resisting the urgent, and finding freedom to gaze on the beauty of God.
I believe if we can become experts at paying attention to God throughout the day, we’ll know great rest, peace, and delight in this life. In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard remarks that “spiritual persons draw their life from a conversational relationship with God. They have ‘a life beyond.’”
With smartphones and seemingly constant contact with others, articles and books to read, news to catch up on, it can seem impossible to still the clamor around us. With pressure and expectations that come with living this life, it can be especially challenging to quiet the rants and raves within ourselves. Maybe finding breakthrough for the difficult sin or struggle in our lives isn’t the result of our trying harder or doing better, but making space for God to be for us what we need. Maybe abundance is sitting with Him more often, not running through our lists and requests, and letting His Presence resolve what is broken or hurtful or confused inside us.
In her book, When the Soul Listens, Jan Johnson beautifully speaks a great deal about this.
She quotes Bernard of Clairvaux, who said that as our capacity for quietness increases, God initiates the conversation, “stirring within people a response to Him. There is no path to God that is not first God’s path to us.” And Henri Nouwen, who asked not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?”
Personally, I find that solitude doesn’t have to be spending an hour in my bedroom with the door shut, or taking a 15 minute walk around the block during the workday.
Quieting your mind to focus on God can happen anytime, anywhere. Practicing solitude of the soul can be just as rich as time spent alone. Get in the car to drive home from work and leave the radio off. Drive in silence for a few minutes and center your thoughts on who you know God to be. Fold laundry or wash dishes and talk to God about what’s on your mind, inviting Him into your moment. Memorize a Psalm, like 103, and pray it as you walk the dog or wait at the doctor’s office or watch a child’s basketball game, listening for God’s heart.
It continues to take effort and intentionality, and I’m nowhere near great at it, but the practice of inner quiet has transformed my world.
No matter where I am, I feel capable to stop anxious thoughts in their tracks, to fill insecure places of my soul by centering on God’s love, to meditate on verses that tell me more of what God is like.
Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. Your will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Silence also brings Sabbath to you. It completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone. Far from being a mere absence, silence allows the reality of God to stand in the midst of your life. God does not ordinarily compete for our attention. In silence we come to attend. Dallas Willard
For the man or woman who has come to know and love the Lord God in the depths of such intimacy, the times of solitude are the most precious in all of life. They are a rendezvous with the Beloved. They are anticipated with eagerness… Interludes with [God] alone are highlights of life. W. Phillip Keller
If we learn to center our hearts, minds, and souls on God, and open ourselves up to what He has to say, change, or do, I imagine our lives will take a wonderfully adventurous turn.
This Advent season, and beyond.