- Have you ever experienced uncomfortable silence?
Perhaps it happened when a speaker stopped speaking and you were convinced that his silence meant he was looking at you. Maybe it was an awkward moment when you didn’t have the words to speak to another person.
“Silence often puzzles people. They meet a silence and they wonder what’s wrong. Or silence makes people restless. The effect is just the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d expect that people would enter a silence and fold their wings. You’d expect that inside a silence people would smooth out and settle down. But that’s not the way it goes. Oddly, a fair number of people find silence disquieting” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
Some people avoid silence and prefer noise, even feeling more secure with the sound of sounds. But what does it tell us when noise feels better than being alone with our thoughts? How can we truly learn the benefit of silence and listening with all the noises and distractions?
“You can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. . . It has a strange, beautiful texture. It doesn’t always talk. Sometimes — sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it” (Danny Saunders).
When we practice silence and solitude in a secret place with God, our thoughts are quieted in His presence. We must hear this word from the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Wise people “give the impression of speaking out of a stillness at their center, a quiet place in which they are at home with themselves, in touch with God, and hospitable to the voices of others” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
A mother of toddlers might relish the thought of solitude and silence but the default for most of us is a power switch that connects us with others in our down time. Beyond televisions and radios, silence and solitude cannot be gained with phones, texting, voicemail, email, blogging, Facebook, and Twitter. Is it possible to be too available, too visible — too connected?
“The truth is that silence is part of the created rhythm of human life. The question of whether we need any silences goes to who we are, not just to what we want. That’s why a loss of silence is so serious. A loss of silence is as serious as a loss of memory, and just as disorienting.
Silence is, after all, the natural context from which we listen. Silence is also the natural context from which we speak. A culture that fills in our silences therefore disorients us. It rips away our frame. It removes the background, the base of intelligibility for all our listening and speaking.”
“The best way to achieve silence during worship is to practice silence as part of our everyday lives. … When this is a natural habit of our daily lives, then when silence is introduced at specific times during worship, we are perfectly comfortable with it and know how to use this precious time to focus ourselves on God in a different way from how we are present to God during the rest of worship” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
There’s a time for everything, wrote the wise teacher, “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7).
Three spiritual disciplines to help us
- Silence – Talking less and listening more. Quiet time before the Lord and others (Psalm 23:2; Isaiah 30:15; James 1:19). This is a lost but needed discipline.
- Secrecy – Living before an audience of one and doing things without others knowing (Matthew 6:5-6; 25:34-40; Philippians 2:3; Hebrews 6:10).
- Solitude – Time alone with God. In our incredibly busy lives, we need alone time in the audience of One. This is indispensable to spiritual growth. Perhaps we must let go of some of our busyness (Mark 6:31).