Does silence make you uncomfortable? Do you feel the need to fill gaps in conversations? Or even share with others the first impression that pops up in your mind when they confide in you what is troubling them? As I reflect on my own past discomfort with silence, I recall some examples, such as how quiet our home was after my husband and daughter left to drop her off at college over thousand miles away and the first Sunday that I would not be calling my mother anymore because she had passed away the week before. For some of us, the experience of silence can remind us of loss.
Yet, the intentional practice of silence can help us better understand what is going on inside of us and help us sense God’s presence and speaking in the midst of that. For it is in silence that we are more likely to become aware of and to acknowledge the inner turmoil that we may have been avoiding through surrounding ourselves with noise and keeping ourselves busy (1). Such quietness helps us discern the “gentle whisper” of God as the Old Testament prophet Elijah experienced on Mount Horeb (I Kings 19:11-13 NIV). Adele Calhoun maintains that “silence is a time to rest in God...trusting that being with [God] in silence will loosen rootedness in the world and plant [us] by streams of living water” (2).
We can also practice silence in the form of holy restraint. Susan Currie defines holy restraint, as “a deliberate holding back of our words and our effort for the sake of leaving more room in which to notice God” (3). Exercising such restraint creates more space for God in our lives and the lives of those with whom we are in dialogue. In Psalm 46, the Psalmist encourages us to “be still and know that [God is God]” (verse 10).
How can we practice the spiritual discipline of silence? To develop this habit, it may be helpful to start with a short period silence each day, such as for ten minutes. Those of us who are time-driven may benefit from setting a timer so that we are not distracted by clock watching. Then as this habit begins to form within us, we can lengthen our time in silence.
We can enter into silence in a variety of environments, depending on our preferences and what seems to resonate with each of us. Some may find a sitting in a comfortable chair in a cozy corner in their home conducive to being still. Others may find spending time in a quiet area of a park or taking a walk outdoors less distracting while practicing silence. Mother Teresa (1910-97) connects silence with the observation of nature and celestial objects. She notes, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is a friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence” (4).
During silence, we can allow ourselves the freedom to detach from doing and just enjoy being, such as deepening our realization that as God’s children, we are loved. Silence is also an opportune time to meditate on short passages of scripture, such as Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” and Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.” What does it mean to you to delight yourself in the Lord? What do you really desire? What is it like for you to be still? What sense do you have of God as you sit quietly or gaze around you while walking?
The practice of holy restraint can be practiced while we are alone and when we are in the company of others. For example, when we are alone and experiencing distracting thoughts while in silence, we can simply acknowledge such thoughts and then let them pass out of our consciousness, revisiting them later if they recur after our time of silence is over. As others share with us about issues in their lives, we can refrain from sharing our impressions at the moment with them on how we think their problems might be fixed. Instead, we keep such thoughts to ourselves at that point to give us time to discern whether the Holy Spirit is leading us to share our insights. Such restraint on our part also gives space to those who are confiding in us to sense God’s presence and speaking to them in their circumstances.
Our relationships with God and those around us are enriched with the regular practice of silence. N.W. Goodacre concludes that “without silence we become so many ‘tinkling gongs and clanging cymbals.’ In silence we learn to ask the right questions about God, about the world, and about ourselves” (5). Are you sensing an invitation to spend time in silence? If so, may it enrich your spiritual journey and deepen your relationship with God and the people who walk alongside you.
1. Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010), 31.
2. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 109.
3. Susan P. Currie, “How to Travel Trustingly in Holy Restraint,” In Silencio (Issue No. 23, June 16, 2022), 122.
4. Mother Teresa, “On Loving God,” in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, ed. John R. Tyson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 442.
5. N.W. Goodacre, “Silence,” in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, ed. Gordon S. Wakefield (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 355.