The discipline of solitude is often paired with the discipline of silence because the practice of silence takes solitude a step further. Part of this goes back to understanding ourselves. When we actually think through our motivations for speaking throughout our days I believe we would be surprised to find how unnecessary most of our words are! Dallas Willard reflects on the beauty of a relationship where two people can just sit in silence together and feel comfortable. He suggests much of our speech is closely related to our own insecurity of what others might think of us or how they might have interpreted something we said or did earlier. If we were not so concerned about these things we would not be speaking so often. Maybe if we didn’t speak so often and listened to our Lord more we wouldn’t have to feel the need to correct another’s opinion about our actions because our hearts and actions would be more bent toward our Lord’s in the first place!
Paul Tournier writes, “Modern people lack silence. They no longer lead their own lives; they are dragged along by events.” Often humans are surrounded in noise that convinces them this world is noisy. In reality, the Lord has created silent places and the illusion is our own lives and busyness. Spiritual Classics reminds us that silence does not have to be created but can be found throughout our world and even in our spirits. “Have you ever heard that silence gives Him glory?” (Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, 257) There is silence throughout creation in the air, trees, clouds, plants, and more and these are all things created by God to function this way.
Tournier defines silence as waiting: “Silence has the power to force you to dig deep inside yourself.” This is why there shouldn’t be awkward silences. Take that opportunity to allow others to think and reflect. Tournier also points out that for the unbeliever silence is beneficial as well. Silence can either bring a deeper understanding of one’s self or do that along with bringing someone closer to their Creator.
John Main believes that religion has been weakened in our world because of the use of words. Every word used is supposed to be powerful, humble everyone, and cut straight to the heart. This is not always possible, especially in a world that words are used so flippantly. Words have lost some power. When it comes to silence Thomas A Kempis says that the easiest way to rest from a “talkathon” is to withdraw from speaking altogether. “It is easier to cut out the conversation altogether than it is to cut it down.” (Spiritual Classics, 149)
A benefit to practicing and mastering the discipline of silence is learning trust in the Lord. We can trust Him to be our protector and no longer be tempted to give self-justification in any situation. Merton states, “In silence we learn to make distinctions” which allows us to think, evaluate, and change. He continues with the idea that if there is no silence within us or practiced then we often think and speak without meaning. Silence is especially important when speaking with another person. We learn how to listen in our relationships. One learns how to be fully present to another without always “thinking all the time about what he has to do next.” (Spiritual Classics, 160) Often times people feel more comfortable speaking to others about personal things when the other person seems like a good listener. We become that active, ready listener when we are practicing with the Lord on a regular basis!
“While not all silence is solitude, silence is always a part of solitude.” (Drs. Gregg & Tan, Disciplines of the Holy Spirit, 42) One can seem to find a time of solitude more easily than a time of solitude with silence. Combining both disciplines forces that person to listen to the Lord, which is indeed the point but harder to commit to. One may have solitude but his or her thoughts are running rampant. There might be buzzing from the furnace, people’s steps in the background from the second floor, among other nonsense noises that can distract. This is why silence is important as a part of solitude, combining the two aids in the focus of the practices. Solitude is also the companion of silence as well. Willard points out, “Very few of us can be silent in the presence of others.”
Solitude paired with silence forces us to stop the noise and simply sit before the Lord waiting to listen. Drs. Gregg and Tan say, “The less we speak, the more we see and hear.” When we do practice solitude and silence regularly we are making “time and space for God…slowly creating inner and outer space that allows God’s Spirit to become manifest to us.” (Drs. Gregg & Tan, Disciplines of the Holy Spirit, 44) The biggest thing one has to remember when practicing solitude and silence is patience to hear that still small Voice. Solitude and a silent heart before the Lord does not happen rapidly just because someone decided they wanted to be that way. Richard Foster teaches us we must understand that there is action involved if one wants to practice and obtain solitude.
The benefits of practicing disciplines like solitude and silence are numerous. One of the largest benefits to our loved ones is the increase of care, observation, and true presence one has when speaking and engaging others. One learns how to listen better as well as be more present in a conversation with another. A disciplined person has trained themselves in their time with the Lord to still their own thoughts and agendas and just listen to another’s. Just as the person in solitude listens to the Lord over themselves, so that same person listens to his or her sister, mother, spouse, and friend, over their own thoughts and agendas as well. Willard says talking is overemphasized anyway. Another benefit to solitude and silence, according to Drs. Gregg & Tan, is how “we gain perspective, are reminded who we are in God, and are made aware of the battle lines.” Silence and solitude will also teach a person how to view others and their problems from “God’s point of view.” (Spiritual Classics, 141)
Silence and solitude are written about so much and many authors say similar things. The fact is that the disciplines of solitude and silence are “simple matters” that many have lost because it seems too elementary. “Not for nothing did Jesus say that we must become like little children.” (Spiritual Classics, 162)
There is a common warning throughout many books as well. It was introduced by St. John of the Cross as the “dark night of the soul”. “The dark night is one of the ways God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that he may work an inner transformation upon the soul.” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 102) Tan and Gregg also write about this reminding their readers it is especially important to know about this when practicing solitude and silence. “We are stripped of our overdependence on the emotional life, on the things of this world, and on ourselves.” (Drs. Gregg & Tan, Disciplines of the Holy Spirit, 48) When we take the time to be alone and in quiet we are able to heal spiritually without depending on our own pleasure or norms of coping. Instead, we are forced to turn to the Healer of all.
I encourage you to try silence paired with solitude. For most of you it will be a challenge at first. Still, I ask you to persevere and allow the Lord to work His way into your head, your heart and your spirit. My hope is we all are a little more comfortable with ourselves and more respectful of others. Through these disciplines may we learn self-control, confidence in the Lord and His speaking, healing and wisdom with our words. “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)