Silence and Solitude
Stop for a minute and consider the number of noises around us every single day. Our phones constantly ring or vibrate, notifying us of another text message or Facebook friend request. We listen to our professors or our bosses and co-workers talk about all the important things that we need to know. Our TVs blare as we get ready every morning and as we watch our favorite show or event every night. Our headphones serenade us with the latest single from Beyonce or the newest episode of our favorite podcast. Cars zoom by on the streets outside our houses. Our friends share their latest stories or argue about which Star Wars movie is really the best (Can’t we all just agree that it’s clearly Episode IV: A New Hope?). We can scarcely sit still without consuming some form of noise, be it TV or music or a quieter noise like we experience as we read a book or do our homework.
Our lives are loud. For many of us, it may be hard to remember the last time we experienced true silence. It’s not that noise is bad. The problem is noise distracts us. It demands our attention. It keeps us from focusing on the most important things. It prevents us from hearing the voice of God that so often comes in the form of a gentle nudge in our hearts.
The discipline of silence and solitude is an escape from all the noise. It allows us to have time to recalibrate, to take a good hard look at ourselves and consider what we’re spending our lives chasing after. It frees us from the distractions around us, the ones that enable us to ignore the darkness in our hearts or the emptiness of the things we’re pursuing. It creates space for us to just sit with God and let Him say or do whatever He wants.
We see Jesus practicing this discipline throughout the Gospels. He’s constantly getting away from the crowds to be with God. Most of us have probably seen this as we read the Scriptures. What we may have missed, though, is that some of Jesus’s biggest miracles and most important moments of ministry take place right after He gets away to practice to silence and solitude. In Luke 5:16, we see Jesus practice this discipline and the next thing we read about is Him healing a man who was paralyzed. In Luke 6:12, Jesus withdraws from the crowds for a night and the next day, He calls His 12 disciples. Right before Jesus feeds the 5000, He gets away from the crowds in Mark 6:31. Even as His crucifixion is imminent, Jesus withdraws to be with God in the garden of Gethsemane. It seems that the Lord really used this discipline in the life of Jesus and He continues to use it in our lives today to fill us up and speak to us, to realign us with Him, and to prepare us to be used by Him.
So how can we practice the discipline of silence and solitude? One, begin your daily time with God with 10 minutes of silence. This is a good way to first start practicing this discipline. For most of us, even 10 minutes of silence is not something we’re used to. But when we do this, there are some really neat things that start to happen. For one, starting our time with God in silence surrenders that time to God for Him to do whatever He wants with it. I don’t know about you but I have a tendency to go into my time with God with an agenda. I want to talk to God about this thing or that thing. I want to know what He thinks about it. I want to know how I should respond and I want to ask God to move in that situation. This isn’t a bad thing. God wants to hear about what’s going on in our lives and He wants us to ask Him to work in those situations. But if we go into that time with too strong of an agenda, we may miss out on what God wants to say to us. We may be so focused on our agenda that don’t let God speak to us in other areas of our lives. By starting with silence, we’re giving the control that time to God. There are things we’ll want to talk about with God but He’s the one who guides that time. He’s the one in control. The other thing that this discipline will do if we build it into the beginning of our time with God is it will make us more aware that we are sitting in the presence of Almighty God. A lot of times we open up the Scriptures or we start praying almost as a force of habit. It can feel so routine that we can forget how amazing it is that we are spending time with our Father, the omnipotent Creator of the Universe. That is a huge thing and this discipline can help us hold on to how awesome it is to be with God. Use those 10 minutes of silence to focus on the fact that you’re sitting in God’s presence. I like to even spend those 10 minutes imagining what it would be like if I was coming before the throne of God physically. What would it be like if God was sitting across from me in bodily form? The reality is God is sitting there with us and that is awesome.
Another way to begin engaging in the discipline of silence and solitude is to set aside an extended time each week or each month to go to a place and be alone in silence. For me, that time is every Tuesday at Pandapas Pond. I get out there and try to spend at least an hour in silence followed by some time of prayer. God has used that time to do and say a lot of different things. Sometimes, He uses it to convict me. Other times, we just spend the time sitting together. Just being out there sitting with Him fills me up. Other times, He says something specific to me like something I need to do or things He sees in me that He’s excited about or proud of. Again, He can do whatever He wants with the time. We just have to create the space.
As you start to practice silence and solitude, there’s a few things to keep in mind. It’s going to be hard. Especially when you first start. As soon as you sit down to be alone and silent before God, you’re going to have a million thoughts rush into your mind. You’re going to be thinking about all the things that you have to do later that day. You’ll remember things you forgot to do. You’ll think about random things like sports or TV shows or books or school. Everything in you will scream against the silence. It can be helpful to have something with you that you can write on so that you can quickly jot down the thoughts you’re having. You don’t want to forget them, but at the moment, you’re focusing on sitting with the Lord. I like to start by asking God silently what He wants to do with that time. Then start reflecting or meditating on the Scriptures. Focus on the fact that God is present with you right there. Think about how your relationship with Him is going. Have there been times in the past week that He was trying to speak and you ignored Him or you didn’t recognize His voice? Process through those. Just let the Lord guide your thoughts. It will probably feel really weird at first. You’ll wonder if you’re wasting your time. You’ll question how God would actually speak during that time. You may not be sure what to even do with that time. We have to remember that there’s no perfect way to engage in this discipline. It looks different for every person. You probably won’t hear something from God every time. But there’s still value in surrendering that time to be with Him. Keep practicing it consistently. As you do, you’ll start to get a better idea of what to think about during that time and how God is using it in you.
It is imperative for us to escape the noise of our lives on a regular basis. In our culture, it’s so easy to let the loudest, most urgent things control our lives. But as followers of Christ, we can’t let that happen. We are called to have Jesus and His Kingdom be our highest pursuit. As we consistently practice silence and solitude, we’ll see ourselves be continually recalibrated to the life of Jesus. As a result, we’ll be more available and more useful to Jesus and there’s no greater life than that.