What I’ve Found In Silence

I’ve been saying less,
and growing more.

636026492149037219-1281118569_jh0913_silenceFor a few months, I’ve been practicing the spiritual discipline of silence. I haven’t told anyone, mainly because it’d be a lil’ embarrassing if people found out and didn’t notice a difference. The emphasis is definitely on “practicing”. As a raging extrovert, it’s natural for me to share my opinion, be drawn to a crowd, and enjoy the center of attention. Practicing silence has been humbling, to say the least.

I’ve grown a lot. Normally, I’ve not been able to see my personal growth in the moment. It’s typically something I can only notice in hindsight. However, with practicing silence, the growth feels like it’s in real time. Let me explain.

Silence is trusting.
My habit in most meetings or conversations was to think about what I was going to say while someone else was speaking. Because of that, my opinion often seemed well articulated and thoughtful. I’d get all sorts of compliments for it, but really my goal was to be heard rather than to hear. When I started practicing silence, I noticed that under my insistence to state my opinion was really a lack of trust. I didn’t trust God was going to direct the conversation without me. I didn’t trust his way and will would be done. My dominance in conversations was more about my rightness than a way toward holiness.

Practicing silence has provided this real-time inner dialogue with God. I’m catching myself preparing a statement, or interrupting, or not listening, and then handing the conversation back over to God. When I do speak up, I’m asking God before hand, is this a contribution to the dialogue or my desire for control? Is this exchange about me being right or me trusting?

Silence is being loved.
After practicing silence in conversations, I started to wonder what it would be like to practice it when I’m alone. I noticed, it’s often the loudest when I’m by myself. I needed constant stimuli. The TV on, a game on my iPad, while scrolling through Facebook on my phone. The radio always on while in the car. Or if I’m feeling especially spiritual, I’d put a christian podcast on or some worship music during my commute.

But it was all noise.
It was all my doubt that I was loved.

See, noise can masquerade as meaning. Busyness can make-believe it’s purpose. Even my prayers can become nothing more than anxieties I swirl up into the atmosphere to impress something how important I am. Silence doesn’t let me hide. I’m forced to just be without any trappings. Or as the Bible puts it, “Be still and know that I am God.”(1)

At first, this terrified me. After time, I discovered, there is a direct correlation between my ability to be comfortable in silence and my confidence in I am loved. With nothing to offer and nothing to say, I am still wholly loved.

Time with God used to feel like a to-do list, dear diary, or vending machine. Impersonal and transactional. Now it feels like climbing up on my Dad’s lap after school. He received the report card in the mail week’s ago. He just wants to hear how recess went.

I’ve noticed the friends who I am closest with are the ones I don’t feel the need to keep the conversation going. On road trips, we can just sit together and watch the trees pass by. Easy. Quiet. Intimate. This is what I’ve started to discover with God.(2)

May we grow in trust. May we remember we are loved. May we watch the trees go by together.

  1. Psalm 46:10
  2. Meditation, centering prayer, and mindfulness have been helpful tools as well. They help me become still. An app which has helped me get started is “Headspace”. Check it out and friend request me on there so we can compare how we’re doing and remind each other to practice silence.

When I Sit Down

lonely-bench-and-a-log-1I was talking to my friend Zac(1) about his difficulty with institutional religion and he made an interesting point. He told me before Jesus shared probably his most famous words, he sat down.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. -Matthew 5:1,2

In the rabbinic tradition, sitting down was a way of communicating importance. If a teacher sat down, you knew what they were about to to say next was really important. They sat down to draw people in. They sat to engage in meaningful conversations. They sat to communicate more than information.

Taking A Stand
It seems today, conservatives are known for taking stands instead of sitting down. They boycott Disney movies, try to ban refugees, and stand up for God in public schools.

Liberals are equally guilty. We are addicted to outrage, protest in airports, and march against those we demonize.

Now, I think there are moments to take a stand. Some of the finest people I know were at SEATAC airport a few months ago. Others fight culture wars and remind me of the important virtues of purity and authority. However, in our zeal to take a stand, do we notice how very few are listening? In our grasping for control, are we losing trust?

When We Sit
It seems like a paradox to sit in order to get someone’s attention but Jesus was full of paradoxes. For instance, he kept going on and on about if you lose your life for Him, that’s how you’ll actually find it. I’m still trying to make sense of that one. Nevertheless, this paradox I understand.

When we sit, we give up authority but create intimacy. We level the playing field. We communicate to the other, relationship trumps talking points. It’s more important for you to know I love you than it is for you to know I’m right. As we sit, we draw people into an exchange of more than ideas. Vulnerability is created and we get to discover the backdrop of another’s conclusions.

What if we embraced this paradox? What would the Church look like if we stopped clinging to authority and opened ourselves to intimacy?

Millenials
As someone who has worked with Millenials for years, I’m seeing the sermon slowly die. They were never impressed by my authority in the first place. They can google something better.

Instead, I find my greatest connection with younger generations occurs when there is a dialogue rather than a monologue. The moment they feel like they are on a railroad track forcing them to go one direction, they check out. But if the dialogue about God feels like a sandbox, they engage. When the back and forth is not merely patronizing or robotic but organic and authentic, I win their attention. In short, when I sit down, they enter in.

I’ve got a lot more to say about sitting down. Grab a comfy chair and lets grow together.

  1. You can listen to the entire conversation on Zac’s podcast HERE.