For years, I would never have even considered sitting alone in silence.
I saw no point to it. For an extrovert who measures her self-worth in doing rather than just being, sitting in silence seemed like a waste of precious resources. Nothing useful could be accomplished. There was no time for it.
I defined my days by how productive I was: what I got accomplished, what I crossed off my to-do list. If I could multi-task- call a friend while checking my email and paying bills- all the better.
Sometimes unexplained feelings would appear, tears would well up uncontrollably, anger would boil into rage within seconds. I didn’t know where these emotions came from and I was too busy to figure it out. Too busy or too afraid.
I didn’t want to know what was going on inside of me. It was easier to live on the surface. And less painful.
But at a friend’s urging, I went away on a silent retreat, mostly to get away from the stress of everyday life. I wasn’t sure what I would do or discover, but I knew too much of my life was unexamined. Too many emotions pushed down. Too many events unprocessed.
Though extraordinarily painful, those few days changed me. I rediscovered myself. And God.
Since then I have actively sought silence as passionately as I used to seek busyness.
In the silence, I encounter the living God. In the silence, I am free to face the ugliness of my soul and the beauty of God’s work in me. The “me” that I have been ignoring in my desire to get more accomplished.
There are no externals to distract me and I bring nothing of my own to God. Nothing but the insecure, sinful, broken me.
In the silence, I am not producing, performing or achieving. This is challenging since “doing” has always been my preferred mode of operation. It’s easier to do things for God. They are measurable and predictable. Volunteer to serve. Do my Bible study. Listen to a troubled friend.
While these are important, God wants so much more than my “doing.” He wants me to know Him, the infinite, unpredictable, and dangerous God, who asks more from me than I want to give. He wants everything. All of me. Not just my Bible study time in the morning and my prayers at night and my doing the right thing during the day. In the silence, everything is laid bare. I can’t hide behind my doing; I must wrestle with who I am and what is really inside of me.
In silence I can hear what’s stirring inside me. The emotions I push aside because they make me cringe as they flash through my mind. The fears that I suppress because I’d rather not face them. The sins that I don’t want to admit to anyone, including myself. The longings that I can’t verbalize and dismiss instead as crazy dreams.
Everything that’s buried deep inside of me comes out in silence.
It’s not neat and packaged. Just a jumble of thoughts and emotions. As these fragments bubble to the surface, I bring them to God, and ask Him where they belong. Is He revealing something I need to see? Are these emotions to be dealt with or distractions to be pushed aside? Only He knows, and I offer them all to Him.
I often get frustrated that I’m not more focused. While I want this period of silence to be productive, to yield-life changing insight every time, what I gain is not measurable. I usually cannot even express what is different.
But God whispers to me that lasting change is slow, incremental, often imperceptible. It starts in my heart, at the roots, hidden from everyone but God, and works its way up to the fruit where it becomes visible.
The change I perceive most readily is that I become more self-aware. The sinful tendencies that I have come to accept as part of my personality surface as I recollect my recent interactions. I notice my need for control and my desire to be right. And my overarching goal of being liked by everyone. God knows all these weaknesses and is tenderly inviting me to face them with Him.
There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. My righteousness is in Christ. I bring nothing of my own. Since I know that my heart is deceitful and wicked, beyond cure, there is nothing to fear as I sit with the Lord and uncover the dark thoughts lurking in my soul.
But even more than the insights I gain into my life, just sitting with God, listening for Him, waiting silently in His presence does soul work in me. The Lord says, “Be still and I know that I am God.” When I am still, I can know Him more fully. I have no doubts about His existence. His presence is unmistakable.
Long after the quiet has ended, I am left with a lingering settledness in my soul, a peace with being rather than doing, and a sense of equilibrium. Making room for silence has made my life feel spacious. Not crammed together and hurried, always running to the next thing.
While I cannot articulate what’s changed in me, after extended time alone with God, I am renewed. Grounded. Secure. I want more of Him. And the more time I spend with Him, the more attuned I am to His voice. In Acts, the synagogue leaders marveled at the disciples’ transformation. And they recognized that remarkable change occurred simply by being with Jesus. And so it is with me.
It is not merely the act of sitting in silence that has accomplished all this in me. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. If the Word hadn’t been a backdrop for my life, and the truths about God not woven into my soul, it would have been just a self-help exercise. But as it was, sitting alone with Jesus has been the single most transformative action in my spiritual growth. It has given me insight into my heart, a hunger for the Word and a passion for God that grows deeper every year.
I had no idea what riches were waiting for me in the silence.