Paul Tournier writes, “Modern people lack silence. They no longer lead their own lives; they are dragged along by events.”
Words have lost some power. When talk happens so often and so flippantly it's hard to conjure up a powerful, meaningful, necessary word. Have you ever been struck by those who don't waste words? I know a handful and I hang on every syllable. They know the power of silence.
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 it requires practice.
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. 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.
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.
Silence and solitude are written about so much and many authors say similar things. The fact is the disciplines of solitude and silence are “simple matters” that many have lost because it seems too elementary.
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) It's the wordy way of saying wherever you go there you are. Sometimes being alone with ourselves is not appealing, but rather a struggle. 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.
Spiritual Classics reminds us that silence does not have to be created but can be found throughout our world and even in our spirits. 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.
Be alone and be so silently. 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)