“Do you even know me?” was my response to Carrie William’s request that I write an article on silence and solitude for the Truth Republic. Silence and solitude are definitely not areas of strength for me when it comes to spiritual practices. But Carrie is not one to back down or let someone off the hook easily, and she just replied with, “Oh, it will be good. You can just be honest about your own journey and struggles.”
Right after Carrie made that ask, I received an email from our new campus pastor, Keri Ladouceur, asking our staff if we had a word for the year, and if so would we share it. Ugh – another “word” person. I am not a “word of the year” person. The next day I opened a newsletter from an author with whom I’ve recently become acquainted; she was sharing about her word for the year. While reading that I felt like the Holy Spirit told me that my word for the year needs to be listen.
Listen? Really? Talking is easy, I’m pretty gifted at talking really. Listening is hard; and guess what listening requires? It requires silence and solitude! Sometimes God just connects the dots in obvious ways, doesn’t He?
Making time and space for silence and solitude is definitely something Jesus made a priority. Before beginning His public ministry, He went away by himself to the desert for 40 days! He spent time alone in a quiet place to pray and listen. (Matthew 4) And in the midst of busy seasons of ministry, He often called a few of His disciples away with Him to a solitary place. (Mark 6:31-32)
So, it’s not that I haven’t realized the importance of silence and solitude; I have! And as an empty nester now, finding space for solitude has become so much easier. For me, the biggest struggle is that my brain NEVER shuts up! I go to bed thinking and processing, I dream vivid dreams. If I wake during the night I almost always have a song playing in my head – it might be an old hymn (not sure why these show up at night, but they do) or a song from Hamilton. And when I wake in the morning my brain goes into full speed ahead mode. The struggle is real! I have to be very intentional about trying to create silent space to hear from God.
Last fall I led a small group on the Christian classic, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In chapter 11 he gives some suggestions to try during our personal prayer time. One was taking 10 minutes to simply recite the first line from Psalm 23 over and over again, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” It was a bit challenging for me in that my brain tried to run in a different direction a few times, but having that line to recite over and over again helped me stay focused.
Based on that idea from Brennan Manning, I have developed some prayer mantras that are helping me to embrace some silence, that allows me to stay focused on sitting in God’s presence and taking time to listen as well.
Here’s my current practice in an effort to create the solitude and silence that allows me to hear from God:
- After reading my Bible, and perhaps journaling a bit, I close my eyes, place my hands in my lap, open, palms up. This posture gets me ready to receive from God.
- I take a few deep breaths in and out.
- Next, I say, “I praise you.” Breath in and out. Again, “I praise you.” I wait. Then I often hear specific things to praise God for – His love, goodness, power, majesty.
- I then move to “I thank you.” More deep breaths repeating those words. I wait and listen. Then I often hear specific things to thank God for – His faithfulness, grace, my health!
I begin with praise and thanks based on the Psalm that says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise…” Psalm 100:4
- Next is “Forgive me.” More deep breaths in and out repeating those words. I wait and listen. Then I often hear specific things to seek forgiveness for – a critical spirit, apathy, having comfort as an idol.
- Next is one of these, “Guide me/lead me me/use me.” More deep breaths repeating those words. I wait and listen. Then I often hear specific ways the Holy Spirit wants to lead me, or I may hear a challenge to be open to being used in a new or different way, or to continue to be faithful in the place God has me.
- I end with a final, “Speak to me Lord, for your child is here listening.” Breath in and out. Wait and listen.
At times my mind still wanders off down a rabbit trail. When I find that happening I try to re-center by quoting the scripture that says, “Take every thought captive…” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
In full disclosure – some days I get up late – or I take a phone call and don’t do this whole routine. I’m not sure silence and solitude needs to be an everyday thing really. I’m a big believer in rhythms vs. routines. And it’s important to remember that our relationship with God is like all our other relationships – if we want it to be good we need to be intentional. But we also need to remember that His love for us is not conditional on us living up to a schedule or check list. My kids don’t call me every day, or even every week at times, but I’m sure glad to hear from them when they do!
So, what are some rhythms of solitude and silence that you can incorporate in your life? Not an empty nester with easy opportunities for solitude? That’s okay, find time where you can. Maybe you need to make a choice like the mom in a Hyundai commercial I saw recently. After some time in the car together, a family of 4 arrives at their camp site. Excited for what’s next on the agenda, everyone jumps out of the car. Her husband looks back in the car and says, “You coming?” She replies with something like, “I just need a moment.” She then turns the car off, leans her seat back – and just sits in the silence. Perhaps you too can find moments of silence and solitude in your car – maybe five minutes in the school parking lot after dropping the kids off, or maybe five minutes in your driveway after returning from errands before heading back into the house and all that awaits you there. What about arriving to work five minutes early and taking that time to sit in solitude and silence?
We live in a busy noisy world that is constantly making demands that we must respond to. But to do our best in responding in a way that aligns with God’s purposes and plans for us, we need to find ways to make silence and solitude, and getting our brains to shut up, a part of the rhythms of our lives.
Author, Sue Ferguson
Community Christian Church, Adult Ministries Associate