Do you know how hard it is to do nothing? It’s even harder to do nothing in silence alone. We’re bombarded by noise and a long list of things to do in our lives. I don’t think I’ve ever met any adults (and many teenagers) who said: “I have nothing to do because I’ve done everything on my to-do list.” Life is busy. Life is noisy.
When I read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, I remember thinking chapters on Silence and Solitude had to be the hardest practice. When I read Jen Hatmaker’s 7, I decided to commit 7 months to practice of fasting based on the book. I was doing pretty well in the first six months of fasting, then I hit the last month of pausing seven times a day for prayer and reflection, and I failed miserably. Silence and solitude do not come naturally to most of us. Even when I’m alone, I usually have music or tv on in the background as I’m reading or busying myself with something else. I love being alone. But I don’t like doing nothing.
Silence and Solitude are two of the spiritual disciplines that fosters spiritual growths in followers of Jesus. In Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path of Spiritual Growth, he writes:
“One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust.”
I often thought the reason I sucked at silence and solitude was that I just didn’t like being productive. Sitting in silence and doing nothing felt like… well, NOTHING. No productivity. But I failed to realize that what I was doing was resisting the space to hear God’s voice. I would often say, “I’m not one of those people who hear God’s voice.” But perhaps its’ because I failed to create space to hear his voice. I was always too busy (which is not always a good thing anyhow).
A few years ago, I started practicing silence and solitude. I would go to a park, the beach, or somewhere I can just stare out into God’s creation (I needed to go where there was no bed, no technology, and even no food. But this space can be a special chair or a room with your cup of coffee.). I went with no agenda, but to just sit, stare, and do nothing. There was no need to put my thoughts into words. I just needed to go and be.
“One of the fundamental purposes of solitude is to give us a concrete way of entering into such stillness so that God can come in and do what only God can do.”
– Ruth Haley Barton
It took practice. The first time, the first 5 minutes felt like an eternity. But the more I practiced, I was able to sit and do nothing for an hour, and it didn’t feel miserable. In fact, it was so good for my soul. Even if I didn’t walk away having had profound “ah-ha” moment, it was so good to clear my mind, sit still, look at the waves in the ocean, and just be. As I learned to be still, I also learned to listen in silence. Of course, thoughts of what I was going to have for dinner that evening, or my to-do list would creep up here and there, but I also learned to let it go and move on.
I still struggle with carving out regular time for Silence and Solitude but putting this spiritual discipline has done more for my soul than anything else. If you’ve never tried it, give it a shot!
- Solitude & Silence on Soul Shepherding: http://www.soulshepherding.org/2005/08/solitude-and-silence/
- Spiritual Direction, Henri Nouwen
- Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster
- Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton
Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.