Silence is golden. But often, silence is awkward, maybe even uncomfortable. Our world is frenetic, filled with a cacophony of sound that permeates our waking hours, and sometimes interrupts our sleep. Busyness is touted as a virtue, and unanswered texts or emails are viewed as an affront to productivity. Our phones beg our attention with alerts to everything from sports scores and news events to reminders to feed the dog or pick up the kids. Look around at the grocery store or the doctor’s office the next time you’re waiting for an appointment. Notice how many people have zoned out, aware only of the podcast or music playing in their ears.
A nudge from God
On a recent Sunday, I took my coffee onto my front porch to watch the sunrise and sit a few moments. Sundays can be hectic, and I like to savor a cup of coffee before I launch my day. As I nestled into my cozy porch glider, I reached in my pocket to pull out my AirPods to listen to some worship music. It was as if God touched my hand and said “wait”. I stopped and surveyed my surroundings. My little mill town home was peaceful. Most houses were still dark and the streets were empty. The only sounds I heard other than the persistent drone of the papermill in the center of town were natural. Birds called back and forth. Crickets chirped. Leaves rustled on the trees.
I didn’t just see the sunrise that morning. I experienced its glory. The gray mist and fog dissolved as the sun peaked above the mountains. The colors turned from pastels to glorious reds and oranges, and finally faded as the night turned into day. Every morning the sun rises. Some days it is more glorious than others. But every single day, God wakens the day in color and light. And way too often I miss it. I’m distracted and busy doing good and important things. Too often I rush past this gift without a word of thanks.
I’m an extrovert and love people. While I’m seldom the first to arrive anywhere, I’m often the last to leave. There’s a modern acronym that describes me: FOMO. Fear of missing out. So, I want to hear the stories, play the games, take the trips. And far too often, I have found myself overbooked, frazzled, and unable to enjoy the moment.
Lessons from a Pandemic
December of 2020 was the most peaceful holiday season I can remember. Prior to the pandemic, the Christmas holidays rushed in like a hurricane. My weekends were crammed with parties, plays and cantatas. But that year, my calendar was blank. And I was able to contemplate the mystery of Christmas, to enjoy the Story. I heard the message of the Incarnation with fresh ears. I won’t gloss over the impact of the virus. But God spoke to me in that silence.
Silence creates golden opportunities for transformation
The men and women that God used the most seem to be the ones who learned from silence. Moses went into the wilderness an angry, brash prince with a cause to settle. Forty years of solitude tending sheep changed him. The Moses standing barefoot at the burning bush bears little resemblance to the impulsive young man who committed murder and fled from justice. In his place is a humble man, matured and ready to take on the responsibility of leading over a million people out of slavery, whether he felt ready or not.
Mary of Bethany ignored the urgency of her sister’s frenzied preparations, and sat enraptured at Jesus’ feet, savoring every word. Her silence vexed her sister, but that wasn’t her intention. She valued each moment spent with Jesus, and didn’t let cultural expectations limit her.
Amy Carmichael was an English missionary to India in the early part of the 20th century. She rescued thousands of children from trafficking. What many don’t realize is that she spent nearly twenty years confined to her bedroom after a fall left her with serious injuries. While others carried on the work, she spent time in God’s presence and left us with a legacy in deep, passionate words. Her books written in that long time of confinement influenced many of the great missionaries of the twentieth century.
A Valuable Practice
Making time for silence can seem as outdated as a rotary telephone, a relic from the past when life was simpler. It seems futile to push back against societal expectations. Is it worth it? Is silence really golden? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact it is vital for our spiritual, emotional and mental health.
• Silence and solitude make us healthier. A recent article by Atalanta Beaumont in Psychology today tells us that time spent in silence decreases our cortisol levels, improves sleep, and helps our brains regenerate brain cells.
• Silence improves creativity. Our brains need time to process the input, to combine information and to generate ideas. Time spent alone regenerates brain cells and allows new synapses to form.
• Silence allows me to hear from God. I can’t offer scientific proof that God speaks in silence. But the scripture if full of examples. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing for His encounter with the enemy. He spent all night alone before He selected his inner circle of 12 disciples. Philip is drawn from a bustling revival to a desert place. And he goes without argument. Paul spent several years alone in the Arabian Desert before he began his public ministry.
Silence is golden, but it takes practice
I am learning contentment in God’s presence. I am learning to give Him space to teach me His plan for me. More times than I can count I have sped through a few verses, mumbled a prayer asking God to bless my day and hurried to the next thing on my agenda. Sometimes I have realized at the end of the day that the things I considered interruptions were God’s agenda for that day. I don’t want to miss those holy moments.
It’s hard to resist cultural norms. Indeed, It is extremely uncomfortable to seek silence when our world is full of chaos. I laugh at Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. He saw Jesus in His glory, speaking to Moses and Elijah. John and James, the sons of thunder were stunned into silence. At least nothing they say is recorded.
Silence can prepare us for tough times ahead.
But Peter, like me, was seldom without words. In his excitement, he blurts out plans to build tabernacles for the heavenly guests. His sentiment was right. He wanted to preserve the moment. But he was supposed to experience the moment. God rebuked him. “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him.” In just a few weeks, Peter’s faith would be tested at the cross. He would need this moment when his world caved in. So, God kindly told him, “Shut up and listen.”
Creative ways to enjoy silence
Lest you think I’m proposing that you quit your job, sell all your stuff, and move to a cabin in the woods, solitude with God looks different for everyone. I have friends who can spend hours alone in a prayer closet. That’s not me. I find it hard to sit still through some sermons. Some of my sweetest times in God’s presence have been while walking my dogs.
In his book Undistracted, Bob Goff talks about his quiet time which he says is seldom quiet. In fact, he often hears from God while washing his wife’s car. He says, “I use the time to true up the things I believe are right and then search the Bible to see if they square with what Scripture says. For me it’s a time to be alone and to enjoy God, not an appointment I am obligated to keep.” So he encourages us to “find something that works for you”, even if it’s unusual.
Tips to toning down the volume:
Here are some suggestions to turn down the volume on life and create some margin so you can hear from God and respond. Creativity comes from our Creator, so we might be surprised at what we could accomplish if we gave Him space. God worked 6 days, and then He rested. And then, He gave Sabbath rest to His people as a gift, not a punishment.
1. Make space for silence. Set aside a time and a place that you can spend time in God’s presence.
2. Take control of your calendar and learn to say no. There are always good things that need to be done. But you may not be the one who needs to do them.
3. Be realistic with your to-do list. I like to think I’m a good multitasker, but I’m not. Most likely you’re not either. The most recent research into how the brain works reveals that we are wired to perform one task at a time.
4. Give yourself grace to fail. If silence eludes you, if you fall asleep in God’s presence, if you look to the internet before you look to God, confess to Him and ask Him for grace to be still.
5. Remember that God loves you. He created You to be with Him. Zechariah says that He rejoices over you with singing. Listen and you may hear the melody of God Himself.
6. Rest. Trust Him. The Psalmist said “My heart is not proud, Lord. My eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself. I am like a weaned child with its mother. Like a weaned child I am content. (Psalm131)
Relationship Matters Most
Friendships are built by spending time together. However, if I pursued some of my earthly friendships the way I pursue Christ, I doubt I would have solid relationships. Indeed,,I have learned most about my friends in unscheduled, unstructured times together. I’m a good talker, but I have to listen also. So, I need to listen more to hear what Jesus has to say. I want to know Christ. Silence is worth the price.