Solitude and Silence
A year and a half ago, in the old days before the virus, I was teaching an introductory class on spiritual disciplines to university students at a fall retreat. I love to open eyes to a whole new world of walking with God, and it is no secret that I am especially fond of working with college students. Now that I am older than most of their parents, I really enjoy filling them in on what life was like in the Old Days. I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder explaining pioneer life.
We were doing a brief overview on each of the chapters in Richard Foster's excellent book Celebration of Discipline, and had come to the topic of solitude. For the first time, I fully realized that I was talking to a room full of people with a radically different notion of "regular life" than I have.
They were surprised and laughed when I told them that most of my young life we only had three channels on the television, and even then our house in a little New England town could not quite pick up the third. The television channels signed off with the national anthem at about midnight, and just played static until morning. Not only that, but we actually had to stand up and walk across the room to change the channel or adjust the volume!
They gasped when I told them that stores closed by 5 or 6 pm every evening, and were not open at all on Sundays; banks closed earlier in the afternoon each weekday and were closed all weekend, the impact of which was enhanced when I explained that there was no such thing as an ATM or a debit card, let alone PayPal. They were really amazed to learn why 7-11 is named that way, and I saw many of them looking it up on their phones to see if I was making that up.
I tried to help them imagine life before microwave ovens, VCRs, and video cameras, back when you actually had to wait to cook real food, watch a movie once in a theater, and send off your film to be developed. I painted a picture of what it was like to exist in a time when you could only watch one episode of a tv program per week, and when you might have to actually go to the library or book store to check out the newest book, music album, or book on tape. New songs were played on the radio, and love notes were written out with a pen and paper, delivered in person. Answering machines did not exist, so you had to call again later or just wait until you saw the person to deliver your message.
Readers with more life experience than I - a child of the 1970's - might find this list of the "Old Days" amusing. But the truth is that when the subject is solitude, all of us in 2020 are coming with a vastly different filter than any person could have in 1980, or 1880, or 80. The young people of today have no experience of a life without the world wide web and all it stands for sitting in their hands. They have no memory of a slower world, with a slower pace of life because it has been 24/7 news cycles, shopping, and noise since the day they were born - and all of us of every age have been impacted and affected by this new world.
When we talk about solitude and silence, it is difficult for many of us to even begin to approach the concepts, let alone practice them. Yet if Jesus Himself practiced the discipline, or habit, of getting alone with God in the early years of the first millennia, how much more do we need to in this modern age of noise and chaos?
Solitude is needing nothing but God. It is waiting in the presence of the Lord. It is being still and knowing that He is God. It is taking a break from the pressure for social media likes, from the constant need of affirmation from others, and from noise and chatter and conversation to rest quietly in God. Dallas Willard explained this well...
“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. Your will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Silence also brings Sabbath to you. It completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone. Far from being a mere absence, silence allows the reality of God to stand in the midst of your life. God does not ordinarily compete for our attention. In silence we come to attend.”
In a day where it is difficult to get away from electronic things and constant noise, we must seek solitude and incorporate it into our schedules. One interesting part to the Coronavirus drama was the fact that, for many of us, it temporarily erased our hectic calendars and schedules. There were many days during the lockdown when there were long stretches of time with nothing at all planned. How interesting to realize that the first temptation was to feel guilty for not doing enough. How interesting that, for many, the next thing was to reach for the phone or the computer to fill up the silence with more noise and dubious information. What a beautiful and fulfilling challenge it was to learn to sit, still and quietly, for awhile to just be.
As we move forward, how different the world could be if we as Christians could remember to incorporate solitude and silence into our lives. Our families, friends, and neighbors need us to be different from the rest of the rat race. They need to see the love and hope and peace of God at work in our lives. They need to know the Good News that God really does have a purpose and a plan for all of our lives and for this broken world; that...
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
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Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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