This week was a quiet one…because it was my week of silence. This was the one discipline that I was probably most anxious about because I have almost no experience with it. However I endeavoured to give it a try anyways. I did not take a vow of silence (like Maria in The Sound of Music) this week simply because with my job I cannot be silent the whole day. Instead I set out some guidelines for how this would all play out:
- I would not talk from 9:00am-4:00pm (unless it was necessary)
- I would not play any music or anything else to fill the silence during this time
This all proved to be a lot harder than I thought but it was also a very enlightening week in terms of how dependent we are on the noise that fills our lives; and how taking that sound away leaves us exposed to things we’d rather not confront.
I have never done anything like this before, or really had any experience with practicing silence as a spiritual discipline so I was kind of at a loss when I started today. I had looked online for any helpful tips as to how to go about this but came up empty handed in terms of finding anything that would help my specific situation. So I more or less just “went for it” and waited until the end of the day to see how things would turn out.
One thing that I noticed right off the bat is that I talk to myself a lot. The reason that I noticed this is because I can’t count how many times I had to stop myself from talking while I was alone; or how many times the jarring sound of my voice invaded the silence around me. I have never had to “shush” myself so many times before. But this brought to my attention just how desperate for commotion we are. The world that we live in so busy all of the time and with that busyness comes an unending barrage of noise. So when I removed myself from that noise, I was still craving it and the only way that I could figure out to get it back was to create it myself. And it made me wonder, how many things have I missed because I was so focused on the noise around me?
Today went better than yesterday, but there were still many times when I had to tell myself to stop talking (which is a weird for you to read as it is for me to type…and experience). With the silence comes plenty of opportunity to think – to contemplate, to wonder – about just about anything and everything. And somewhere in that silent contemplation my mind found its way back to God. Nothing in particular about him, just the fact that he’s here…and there…and everywhere…even in the silence.
After 4:00pm (which is when I could talk again) I was having a conversation with some of my house mates when I realised that there is something beautiful about being silent in a conversation. Now I’m not saying that you’re ignoring the other person or checking out; what I’m saying is that you are not talking with the intention of hearing your own voice. You are sitting and listening (really listening) to the other person without planning out your response or what to say so that you can sound wise and important. You are sitting in silence and letting the other person’s voice fill the space between you instead of your own. When we intentionally allow for our need to speak to fall silent we allow for someone else’s need to be heard.
Today I embarked on the Three Hour Experiment in Prayer*. I’ve done this before several times so it wasn’t a new thing for me to try. However to do it after being in (mostly) silence over the past couple days was different. Usually I find myself trying to fill the silence and that’s what causes me to be so distracted sometimes when I’m praying. But today I didn’t try to fill the silence, I simply embraced it. And in that act of embracing I was able to find another way to connect with God during this exercise…through the silence. Most times during prayer we tell God all of the things that are going on in our lives and ask for help; but when the time comes to sit and listen for his response we barely make it a minute because we can’t stand it anymore.
I have never heard the audible voice of God, in fact I have heard from God (in any shape or form) only a handful of times in my life. I used to think that that meant that there was something wrong with me or that I was doing something wrong when I was trying to talk with God. After this though I have come to realise that maybe God is talking to me through the silence…with the silence. Maybe I don’t need the loud booming voice, or the visions, or the prophetic words. Maybe that’s not how God has chosen to speak to me; maybe what I need is to do to hear God is sit in the silence that he has provided for me. To embrace the peace that comes with it, and to embrace the Prince of Peace.
So next time you think that you’re doing something wrong because all you’re getting is radio silence remember: the stillness is where we can hear the best, even if what we’re hearing appears to be nothing.
Going from constant noise to sudden silence is very jarring. It’s also a little unnerving. This whole week I have been fighting urges to fill the calm with any kind of noise: talking, humming, singing, random sounds, anything that would kill the quietness that was surrounding me. It made me realise just how foreign silence is to us in our current world, and how important it is for us to get away once in a while to a place where serenity can surround us instead of noise. Whether that means driving out to the mountains, or booking a stay at a retreat centre, or turning off all electronics and finding a quiet corner in your house to sit in; it’s important for us to tune out the cacophony of the world and tune into the symphony of God. While sometimes the silence can be crippling, there is unimaginable beauty to be found within it if we stand tall and persevere.
Today was more or less a write off for trying to be silent all day. I had appointments and phone calls and a whole slew of other things that I simply had to use my voice for. However I didn’t just throw away the idea of trying to practice the discipline of silence. While I did have to talk today I was more aware of what I said, as well as how I said it. I have never been a super talkative person and I am usually the person who sits back during group discussions and listens rather than adds in her two cents. Even though I don’t talk a lot, I have to admit that there are times where I don’t really listen all that well either. I get caught up in my own thoughts or ideas while another person is speaking to me and subsequently I tune them out. And I know that I’m not alone in doing this, it happens to all of us from time to time.
That’s why today I tried to be hyper aware of not only what was coming out of my mouth, but also what wasn’t. I made a conscious effort to be totally present in every conversation that I had today. Not figuring out what I would respond with, or planning my sentences so I could turn the conversation back around to me. But 100% focused on the person that I was talking with and the words that they were saying to me. So while I wasn’t totally silent today, I was silent when it came to trying to make every conversation about me.
The Take Away
This was the most challenging week for me yet, but I am very happy that I did it. The reason why I chose this particular discipline was because it was one that I have little to no experience with and I wasn’t interested in playing it safe and only choosing disciplines that I know I can do. It was definitely a stretching week, but also a very rewarding one in all that I have learned from it.
Will I continue to practice silence? Continuing to practice the discipline of silence as I have this week is not very practical for my everyday life. While I won’t necessarily continue as I have, I will continue to practice silence in conversations. That way I can focus more on the other person and their needs and less on myself and what I think I need.
Would I recommend it for others? I realise that it is not always possible or practical for everyone to practice the true discipline of silence, but I do recommend that you try it for a bit. Even if that’s just taking your next off day and heading out to the woods where there’s no cell service and just wondering around without any added noise. Find a way where you can practice your version of silence and let that be a time for you to stop talking and start listening; who knows maybe you’ll even hear the voice of God.
I am now heading into the final week of this four week journey. I’m leaving silence and stepping into the discipline of fasting. But I’m not fasting what you might think…
*Find the instructions for this under the Resources tab at the top of the page