Are You Afraid of Your Own Silence?

Silence, God, Prayer, Loneliness

Photo: Marge Fenelon

When the kids were little, I’d dream of the day when I’d have the luxury of a whole day to myself without the noise and chaos of our busy family. Oh, the thoughts I would think, the words I would write, and the pots of coffee I’d leisurely consume!

I yearned for silence.

Now that the kids are staking out on their own, I’m finding myself with plenty of silence on my hands.  My days are mostly my own now, at least when I’m not traveling for projects or heading out for a speaking engagement. Except for the sound of the refrigerator running or a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer, it’s pretty quiet around here. 

It’s the dream I’ve dreamed – to be able to bask in silence, undisturbed, unperturbed, and gleefully slurping coffee to my heart’s content.

But I’m not gleeful, and my heart’s not content.

I’m finding that, rather than reveling in the silence, I rush to fill it. I meander around the house, not knowing what to think. I play music to fill the empty airspace. I tinker with the keyboard without taping out truly meaningful content as I was so sure I would once I had my silence. Sometimes, I make up an errand just to get myself out of the house.

I’m afraid, you see, of my own silence.

Without noise and chaos, I’m forced to face myself and the reality of who I am and where I stand before God. When there are people around me, I rely on them to make me feel useful and valuable. When no one’s around, I have to make myself feel useful and valuable.  It’s just God and me and what he’s asking of me in that silence.

St John of the Cross wrote much about silence, and his words are profound. Consider this:

What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.

Progress is the key word here. I, and probably you, have been groomed to believe that the only real progress is made when it involves hard word and activity. The progress St. John refers to is different. He’s writing about the spiritual life.

Here’s another:

Wisdom enters through love, silence, and mortification. It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, nor the lives of others.

It isn’t busy-ness that makes us better persons. It only makes us busier persons. Wisdom is the real prize, because only wisdom can lead us to discern God’s will and embrace his love for us. Only wisdom can help us achieve the goals that are worth achieving.

And finally:

It is best to learn to silence the faculties and to cause them to be still, so that God may speak.

That’s the crux of this whole matter. It’s a misconception that if there’s silence, nothing important is happening. That can’t be further from the truth! Silence gives us time to breathe, a chance to look to God instead of ourselves (or others) for a change, and to surrender our hearts to him.

Silence is a gift, not something to be feared.

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