Silence and solitude are twin disciplines which can be practiced separately, but are most effective when combined. Silence is not just environmental. It also includes our tongues, our minds and our hearts. We can practice this discipline in small increments within our busy days by focusing on one of the four areas, or by seeking an extended time and a specific place to practice all four simultaneously. Silence is such a critical discipline that it is worth the effort to make it happen. (For more on the practice of silence, see my articles from May 21 and May 29, 2020.)
Silence forces our undetected noise to surface and be identified. Then, after all the noisy distractions, accusations and fears have bobbed to the surface and paraded past, we find ourselves sitting in an inner and outer silence, the kind of silence within which God’s gentle whisper can be heard. Here is a question I don’t like to ask myself but find that I need to….regularly. Could my lack of hearing from God be traced to the external and internal noise I allow in my life?
The impact of the silence only deepens when it is partnered with solitude. In his little book, Intimacy with the Almighty, Chuck Swindoll writes, “Silence and solitude invite us to drink deeply of God’s presence, helping to slake the thirst of a panting soul... I am more convinced than ever that there is no way you and I can move toward a deeper, intimate relationship with our God without protracted times of stillness, which includes one of the rarest of all experiences: absolute silence.”
Spiritual direction was the final element of this helpful triad. In the simplest of terms, spiritual direction is partnering with another person to listen together. Through the director’s prayerful questions we are positioned to break outside of our own habits and see God’s work from a different perspective. Based on the themes that emerge, the director may suggest readings and practices that can help clarify what the Lord is saying and doing and how we are responding to the burdens and joys we carry.
For me, the entire week became a focus on God’s love. Our Lord began my faith-journey with an overwhelming, undeniable experience of God’s love. Over the decade, an experience of God’s love has been repeated but this week I began to see how much I had drifted from living in the love I once knew. It seems I have allowed my knowledge of God’s love to reside mostly in my mind. I can teach it, but how well do I experience that love? In what ways has my response to this love opened the channels for God’s life to flow in me without limit? I had to chuckle at our Lord’s grace in all this. What has been our congregational emphasis since January? What has the Lord highlighted throughout the COVID season? Do you remember our memory verse from the first of the year?
For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power, through his spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith [the life of God in me without limit]. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power together with all the saints to grasp [find and hold on to] how wide, long, high and deep is the love of Christ and that you may know [in an experiential way] this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” [there is that life of God in me without limit thing again].
So I return grateful for God’s grace that allows me to learn the same lesson again, and again and again. And I return with a deepened desire to continue living in the experience of God’s amazing love, a love that helps me grow in my own love for God, for others and for this world.
As I type this while waiting to board my flight home, I must express my profound thanks to my dear wife, Anne, for supporting this time away. While I received much needed silence and solitude, she (and the boys) shouldered all the duties at home. I trust that their extra effort will reward them with a healthier husband and father.
Taking extended time away is not easy to do for any of us to do. This is why learning to practice regular and smaller units of silence, solitude and direction in our own context is so important. I am eager to see what the Lord has prepared for the remainder of my renewal leave and look forward to sharing those thoughts along the way.
I hope to be back to the Bible reading journey next week! See you then.
Growing in grace, hope and love with you.