Face to Face with Ourselves and God
Recently, with a gathering of leaders, I began by opening our time together with two minutes of silence. I invited them into silence saying, “Notice the presence of God with you and say to Him, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ When distractions arise, return to your awareness of the Lord and say to Him again, ‘Here I am, Lord.’” At the end our time in silence I said, “We have just practiced silence, but we were not in solitude.”
Silence and solitude are spiritual disciplines that are often mentioned together. And while silence can be practiced in solitude, silence can also be practiced in community. Solitude as a spiritual discipline, on the other hand, is the state or situation of being alone with God. So, silence and solitude are two separate spiritual disciplines, that may or may not be practiced together.
Solitude is known as a “container discipline” – a spiritual discipline in which other disciplines can be practiced. While in solitude with the Lord we can engage in a variety of spiritual practices: worship, confession, fasting, journaling, scripture meditation, Bible study, retreat, various forms of prayer, and of course, silence.
Solitude is a place of formation, as seen in the life of Christ. The Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted (Mark 1:12). Very early in the morning, Jesus left the disciples and went a solitary place to be with the Father (Mark 1:35). Adele Calhoun writes in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook that solitude is a place in which we can be honest with the Lord because we are away from the attention of others. No one is looking over our shoulder watching, judging or interpreting our words or actions. It is the place where the Spirit of God brings us “face to face with hidden motives and compulsions.” Solitude shows us how much of our false self is embedded in our identity. We often avoid solitude because it seems unproductive and no one is around to applaud our efforts. But it is in solitude that God offers love and acceptance of who we are in our darkest ways. In solitude the Spirit of God can do the deep work of ongoing transformation towards our true selves in Christ.
Solitude as a spiritual practice is something I enjoy. I am an introvert and though I love people and enjoy being with people, I am most energized by being alone. Silence, on the other hand, does not come as easily for me. Oh, I can be silent… as in not speaking… however I’m an internal processor, so there is constant activity going on in my head that I never say in my outside voice. My husband, though, is an external processor. He likes to talk out loud about what is on his mind. Sometimes when he is quiet I ask him, “What are you thinking?” Occasionally his reply might be, “Nothing.” I have never been able to grasp the concept of “nothing” going on in my head. So, although being silent is not difficult for me, silencing the perpetual noise in my head can be very difficult. That is why I have even more of a reason to press into the valuable spiritual discipline of silence.
Calhoun writes that silence is a discipline that requires patience and waiting. She says that in silence we may notice things we would rather not see or feel. When we notice what comes up for us in silence, these are the things that we bring to God into prayer. When we practice silence, eventually the inner chaos and noise settles and our capacity to open up to God grows wider. I find this very true for myself. Longer periods of silence work better for me because it takes time for the noise in my head to settle down as I seek to focus on the Lord. It’s appropriate to note that silence is not meant to be productive. Often, the fruit of silence is not seen - however it is experienced in the fruit we bear.
One of the most powerful evidences for God is that we cannot control Him. If He was a god of our own making, we would be able to control when and how He shows up and what He says. David Benner comments in his book Surrender to Love that “God operates in a manner so often unlike what we even want or are ready to receive that it is obvious that such a God is no mere projection of human imagination or desire.” I find this true as I meet with God in silence because it reveals to me how very much I cannot control Him. I cannot control when or if He speaks nor can I control what He says or does.
In silence, we intentionally place ourselves in the presence of God with simply one goal in mind, to be in His presence. There is a genuine freedom in spending time in silence with Jesus. No words are needed; just being together is enough. Savoring His presence, wanting nothing from Him, simply choosing to be with Him in love.
The practice of silence is not about “getting it right” – it’s about being in relationship with God. If silence isn’t a regular practice of prayer for you, I encourage you to begin with one of these simple steps:
1. Each time you pray, set aside an amount of time to practice silence. You can set a timer on your watch or phone – begin with 2 minutes, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes and then increase the amount of time you spend in silence as you grow in this practice.
2. Begin practicing silence as the first thing you do each time you pray. Consider Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (ESV)
This blog is one in a new series of blogs, Spiritual Disciplines for Times Like These.
Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton
Surrender to Love, David Benner
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun