Space for Silence

“I need peace and silence to give free play to this quickening flame of prayer.”

– The Way of the Pilgrim

Do you avoid or resist silence? Do you fill silence with noise and activities?

There have been times in my life when I have struggled with silence. It can make me feel uncomfortable and unproductive. But over the past months, as the world turned upside-down, and fear and uncertainty threatened to steal away peace. When “normal life” became virtually different, and cancellations, social distancing, and masks became the new norms. When divisions and disagreements, plots, and politics further isolated and alienated people. When mental fatigue and frustration infiltrated an already fragile world, I needed and craved silence more than ever. 

During these months, I have taken some time to create space and have been working to bring more silence into my life. In one sense, this has been one of the busiest seasons of my life and in ministry. And yet in another way, this season is becoming one of the most peaceful and quiet seasons I have yet to experience in a heart and spiritual sense. 

Learning how to quiet down has been work. The Holy Spirit has helped through the many trials and errors, failures, and restarts. Creating silence has come with imperfect efforts, growing through uncomfortable challenges, avoiding distractions, practicing self-discipline, relying on faith, and learning to relinquish control. Yet, each attempt at silence has been fruitful and faithful to lead me to prayer- a life-line of peace, strength, and truth, which guards and strengthen my heart and mind. 

Silence can make us aware of the things we would rather avoid or not feel. It requires us to listen more than speak. It helps us evaluate our motives (which can often be eye-opening and unpleasant) and take inventory of our activities to reevaluate what is important. 

Silence also highlights the value of time that is too precious to waste on the world’s worries and woes. It offers a proactive place of positioning and purpose- a place of freedom and rest. Silence is a sacred space to take refuge in uncertainty, and most definitely worth the time and effort of creating it in our lives. 

Exercises to Create Silence in Your Life: 

(from Adele Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)

1.) If silence is new for you, begin with ten minutes. Setting a timer can help a novice who watches the clock. The timer lets you forget the time and settle into the quiet. Intentionally place yourself in the presence of God and become quiet. -As you become quiet, what do you hear- voices, traffic, your breath, wind, your heart, distracting thoughts? Let the nose go. Continue to let the quiet deepen. Be with God. -After ten minutes, reflect on what it was like for you to simply be still enough to hear the background. – Try several times a day. What happens to you? The benefits of being silent are often seen in the fruit it bears than the experience of silence. 

2.) While doing a task, turn off any background noise and continue the task by offering it to God. Be in the present, doing what you are doing with a listening heart. -What is it like for you? -What distracts you? 

(Shanna’s note: If you are a mom with young kids, this might be difficult to do. I would suggest trying this during nap time, or including your children in a set quiet time for your whole family. We have also tried silent lunches- where there is no talking while we ate. I was surprised by how much better the food tasted. PB& J was never more delicious!) 

3.) If you struggle with silent time, bring a timer with you to prayer. Sit in a quiet and comfortable place where you can attend to the Lord. Take some deep breaths, relaxing your body, and quieting your mind. -Put the timer on for one minute. Become still before the Lord. When a distracting thought comes to mind, count it, but drop it into the river of God’s peace. Let it float down the river. Count each thought that comes up and let it float down the river. After one minute, how many thoughts have gone through your mind? – Set the timer for another minute. Repeat the same exercise. How many thoughts went through your mind this time? -What do you find out about quieting your soul? What was it like for you to do this? 


On the Other Side of the Screen

On the other side of the screen, the “service” had just ended. The cameras and lights were turned off. The faithful few, who had come to serve and livestream the service, left with a quiet goodbye and a distanced wave.

In the still, dark and empty sanctuary, the events of the past weeks finally caught up with me. I looked out over the vacant rows of seats and felt a wave of grief. The color, action, and life that once danced around the sanctuary had been deployed. Like ghosts, I could see the faces of my church family. I could see their warm smiles, hands raised in praise, a caring hand on a shoulder. I could hear the echoes of music, prayer, and our youngest members calling out my name in hellos and giggles. Tears welled up in my eyes, and for the first time in weeks, I cried.

This is difficult. This is sad. This is loss.

Loss is a great magnifier. It highlights the many things we may have taken for granted. It leads us to discover the things most important to us. And it has a way of putting a value on invaluable things.

Without knowing it, I’ve taken for granted gathering with my church family. Attending services, the many Bible studies offered, and the extra events now seem like a dream luxury afforded only to those who live in fantasy, far off-places not affected by an invisible virus. I have taken for granted the way songs and praise fills a room, and how it turns into a life force that changes hearts. I miss the face-to-face conversations, seeing eyes filled with emotion, and having the honor of praying with someone in person. I miss hearing voices and the noises in the background of church life. I miss human touch- the handshakes, high fives, and hugs.

This is difficult. This is sad. But, could this be gain?

On the other side of this loss is joy. It has been an incredible thing to watch our church family rise up, bind together, and help & support each other. We’ve been creative in the ways to connect. We’ve started worshiping in a new way- livestreaming our service for the first time. We’ve started ending our day together with online prayer, word and worship. Encouragers are encouraging. Givers are giving. Servers are serving. Teachers are teaching. Gifts and talents are been utilized and used for God’s Kingdom. In many ways, we have been more intentional, more grateful, and feel more connected than ever before.

It is a strange thing to be joyful when you are grieving, but grief and joy can coexist. In fact, I think they complement and balance each other. Human feelings do not evaporate in times of trouble and uncertainty. But in the midst of our feelings and emotions, we can take hope in the fact that the Spirit will continue to empower us to move forward in unseen, unexplained strength.

Relying on our own power will only exhaust us, but relying on faith’s power will energize us. When we keep our eyes on the promises of God, this current situation is not the finality of reality. Our daily reality comes full of troubles and situations, but our eternal reality brings us joy and life. As a follower of Christ, we can be hopeful, future-focused, and embrace “for such a time as this” in both our joy and grief.

When this time passes, and it will pass, we will come out on the other side stronger. And what a perspective we will have. We will want to open our church doors wider, shout salvation, gather together more often, linger with each other longer. Our sanctuaries will be filled with color, life and action again. And praise, prayer and laughter will raise the roof.

Until then, we’ll keep being creative in connecting. We’ll keep showing up for our online services. We’ll keep loving those around us one step closer to Jesus. And we’ll continue to cling to hope and truth. Our future is secured by a sacrifice on a cross, and the Holy Spirit continues to help us and unite our hearts together, no matter which side of the screen we are on.

A memory to look back upon….