Henri Nouwen called solitude "the furnace of transformation". Chuck Swindoll says it's "an oasis of the soul where we see ourselves, others, and especially our God in new ways."
In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me - naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken - nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces. . . .
The task is to persevere in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone. (Nouwen, The Way of the Heart)
Read: Psalm 131
1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great
and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.
- How do you avoid or resist silence or solitude?
- Do you tend to fill silence with background noise? The TV or music etc.? What might that mean?
- What sense of God do you have when you're alone?
Each of us has a true self - the self we are deep within; the self that is known only to God and (sometimes) to ourselves - and a false self - the self we pretend to be for everyone around us; the self we wish we were; the self we want people to think we are.
Silence and solitude strip us of that mask, that scaffolding, that pretense. Most of us spend large parts of our lives trying to prove our worth; trying to control or grasp or impress others. When we sit silently before God, we let go of all that. We let the scaffolding fall away and we stop pretending. We simply let God see us as we are.
When we wed solitude to our silence, we come face-to-face with our brokenness. In solitude we step away from our scaffolding and we are present to God as we really are. And in that place of silence and solitude, like the psalmist, we find the LORD is our hope. We find he loves us where we are. We find, if we'll stay long enough, that he calms and quiets our souls and allows us to reenter the world with a healthier view of Him and ourselves.
Do: (adapted from The Spiritual Practices Handbook by Adele A. Calhoun)
Hopefully you began practicing silence and solitude last week. If not, set a goal to try it at least three times this week. If it's new, set an alarm for 10 or 15 minutes so you can forget the time and seek to settle into quiet.
Take two or three deep breaths. Recognize that the Lord is as near as your own breathing. Try to silence your thoughts as much as possible. In your quiet, what do you hear? Voices? Traffic? Your breath? Wind? Your heart? Distracting thoughts? Let the noise go. Continue to let the quiet deepen. Be with God.
When your time is finished, reflect on what it was like for you to simply be still enough to hear the background. The benefits of being silent are often seen in the fruit it bears rather than in the experience of silence per se.