A Christian Approach to Silence
There’s a problem:
We live in a noisy world. This is obviously true if you live in a big city, or even suburbia like I do, but it’s also true if you live in a forest or a field somewhere. We are all constantly bombarded by noise. With voices.
If you were alive 200 years ago (and if you were, send me a message) the only voices you heard were 1. Your own voice 2. The voices of your family 3. Your neighbor’s voices. That was about it. Maybe you occasionally got news from a visitor, passerby, or out-of-town guest. But, the voices you heard were limited.
If you were alive 100 years ago your world was expanded so that now you heard the voices of the radio and newspapers.
50 years ago the TV was added to the mix.
30 years ago our laptops opened up our eyes and ears to a whole new chorus of voices.
15 years ago our phones changed everything. Suddenly we had in our pockets an innumerable amount of noise. Voices call out to us from Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, news website, and blogs. We are bombarded with noise from the moment we get up, and even into our bedrooms at night.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes these voices have good things to say. Our lives can be fuller because of them. They can add value.
But, they are always saying something. Something to you. Something about you. These voices are telling you to “Be like this” or “Do this”. They are reminding you that you’re not like everyone else, or that you haven’t achieved what your friends have. They laugh at you because your life isn’t as happy as the Instagram model. The voices fill you with fear as they tell you about overseas tragedies and terrorist attacks. They tell you to “do, do do!” or else you’ll miss out.
All these voices can be overwhelming. And, how do we know which one to listen to? How can we discern which ones add value and which ones are lying? It’s exhausting work to do so much listening. We live in a noisy world.
The loudest voice of all
The loudest voice of all, the most noisy one we hear, is often our own. It’s constantly clamoring for our attention (and it wins). It’s our own inner voice that tells us we’re a nobody, that fills us with doubt, or condemns us as guilty. It’s that voice inside our heads that never stops talking. It’s our own pride-filled voice, the arrogant one, that traps us in the prison of “self”. Even when the phone is away and the TV is off as we drift off to sleep, we are telling ourselves something. And I don’t know about you, but I need a break.
Why we need silence
Silence is somewhat of a lost art. It’s hard to find. Impossible, really, at least without some effort. But, I think the effort is worth it. You see, Christian silence is not about simply emptying your mind of everything. Instead, it’s about emptying it of every outside noise (including your own) so that God can speak the words you need to hear. It’s about fine-tuning our internal antennas so that we are tuned-in to the voice of our savior. And that takes an effort that is worth the struggle.
- Without silence we can’t listen. Since we are bombarded by voices (including our own) we have forgotten about the one voice that matters: God’s. Sometimes we need to tune out all the other voices so that we can tune in to Him. Because, He has things to say we need to hear. Instructions and promises we won’t hear anywhere else. God wants to tell us about the way of life that is best for us. He wants to explain to us what it looks like to love our neighbors, care for His creation, and serve the poor. He wants us to listen to Him so that He can tell us what’s best for us. But, God also has the most beautiful promises to make. He wants you to hear that you are His child. That He has chosen you, accepted you, and forgiven you. He wants to talk to you about His Son, Jesus, about His cross and empty tomb, and about His impending return in Glory. These are messages the world doesn’t give. Without the space created by silence, we miss out on all that God has to say. Without silence we can’t faithfully obey Him, and we certainly can’t begin to bask in His Good News. Again, a Christian approach to silence is less about achieving an emptiness of mind, but more about tuning out all the outside noise so that we can be filled with Christ.
- In silence we find rest. If you’re like me, you’ve fallen in the trap of justifying a 90 minute Instagram or Facebook binge by telling yourself that you just need to “relax”. But, if you’re like me, you really don’t end up any more relaxed. Sometimes we need to turn off all the noise to simply and completely rest. As we begin to struggle through the awkward silence, and as we ponder the voice of God that fills in the void, we will find our true rest. Rest that comes from His Word of life and love. Entering into silence allows us to receive rather than achieve.
- Silence reminds us that what matters the most is not what or how much you do, but who you are. We define ourselves (because society says so) by what we do. We think we were made to accomplish and achieve. The more you do, the higher you climb, the better you are. We measure ourselves by our accolades and awards. We constantly compare ourselves to other based on the plaques that hang on our walls or the letters behind our name. But, God doesn’t grade us by what we’ve done. The greatest thing we can do is to simply be His beloved child. Now, don’t get me wrong, God does call us to work hard to love our neighbors and serve those around us. But, those things don’t make us His children. Silence allows us to detach from our struggling and striving and to simply stand in wonder of the God who has done so much for us. It frees us from the shackles of “achievement” and allow us to simply be.
Simple tips to reclaim quiet
- Be intentional. Set some time apart each day. If you’r a morning person – take advantage of that and wake up before everyone else so that you can spend some quiet time listening to the Lord. If you like to stay up late, use that tendency to focus you. Put your time of quiet on a calendar. Add it to your to-do list. Use structure to your advantage. At different times in my devotional life I’ve set timers. Even a 10 minute timer (which can feel overwhelming at the beginning) can be a good place to start. Structure can help, but don’t be a slave to it.
- Turn off the noise (literally). Turn off your phone, or at least the notifications. Don’t go near the TV. Go in a room and shut the door if you need to. Distractions are everywhere, so do your best to minimize them.
- Spread it out. Having an hour of quiet in the morning is great, but often unrealistic. Instead of turning to your phone while you wait in line at the store, or as you stand around waiting for a friend to meet you for lunch, or while you are sitting at the doctor’s office, try embracing the silence. Redeem that time with quiet.
- Direct your silence towards God. Maybe this means you carry around an old-school bible with you. Or, it could mean you have a bible app on your phone. But, remember, the goal is not to empty your mind of everything. The goal is not silence for the sake of silence. Instead, as Christians we want to tune out the other voices and noises so that we can finally listen to God. So, use those 10 minutes while you wait for a friend to read your bible or to pray. Instead of spending an hour on your couch after work scrolling through Instagram, listen to a sermon or Christian podcast. Use your lunch hour to reflect on God’s promises and consider His goodness.
Silence is a lost art. But, let’s start a comeback.
If you’ve liked what you read and want to read more, check out my little book about Christian maturity on Amazon called, “Growing Up: In, with, and under Jesus”
To help myself structure my quiet time, I created a Prayer Journal that you can buy on Etsy here.