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? 


Required to Rest

“Action, then passivity;

Striving, then letting go

Doing all one can do, and then being carried…

only in this rhythm is the spirit realized.”  

“The essence of being in God’s image is our ability, like God, to stop. We imitate God by stopping our work and resting. If we can stop for one day a week, or for a mini-Sabbath each day, we touch something deep within us as an image bearer of God. Our human brain, our bodies, our spirits, and our emotions become wired by God for the rhythm of work and rest in him.” -Robert Barron, And Now I See

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been convicted and encouraged to take inventory of my busyness and life rhythms. I’ve been prompted to conduct a self evaluation of the state of my heart and the observance of Sabbath in my life. 

The result of these things have brought a new awareness and perspective I haven’t found before. It has sparked a journey into learning new spiritual disciplines and figuring out how to wire these new practices into my life. I believe I’m stepping into a new, sacred place of life.  

The first and most important step in all of this was to do something I find incredibly difficult to do- to stop. Honestly, stopping wasn’t my choice. I was forced to stop. A class requirement of a day long Soul Sabbath at a spiritual retreat center run by the Sisters of Notre Dame required me to so.

Funny how a requirement produced a desire to seek out more silence, solitude, and Sabbath in my life. How “having to” turned into “wanting to.” How stopping started new dialogue, reconditioned my heart, and expanded my vision and goals. The whole time I was thinking I was checking off a work box, but God was checking in on my heart and drawing me in closer to Him through rest. 

“Stop, rest, delight and contemplate” are four principals of Sabbath that Peter Scazzero writes about in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. I’ve been focusing on these things and soaking up silence and solitude (as much as a mom of three can find). I’ve been discovering new rhythms, paying closer attention, hearing better, and sampling the “something greater that awaits.” It doesn’t look perfect and holy, it looks more like stumbling and tumbling, but it is a forward moving, in a more peaceful process with intention to be in God’s presence and be present for others.  

Our Lady Queen Chapel
Notre Dame Spirituality Center
Ipswich, MA

I don’t know what the current condition and the state of your heart and life is. I don’t know if busyness and striving is stealing joy, peace and contentment away from your life and relationships. Maybe you feel like you’ve become lost in a storm of choices you’ve made (including the good ones that have become time consuming restrictions.) Maybe you feel like you are what you do, and have lost sight of who you truly are. Many people struggle with busyness, balance, work addiction, and high, unhealthy expectations. If you feel this way, you are not alone. Finding time to be alone, more specifically alone to be with God, can help.

I invite you to do the incredibly difficult work to stop. It doesn’t need to be a whole day of silence and solitude, but at least an hour of time, preferably more, of intentional rest and no work. 

Ignore the lies that it cannot be done. Make it happen. You may need to force yourself to this. You may need to say no to something or someone. You may need to ask someone to watch the kids. Shut off your phone, silence social media, get outside, go for a walk, or take a nap. It may not feel “productive,” but it will be more productive in the long run. And maybe, just maybe, stopping to rest will start something new- a plan of action for more silence, solitude, and Sabbath in your life too.

Cheering you on, friend!

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

Psalm 37:7


2019 Word of the Year- HABIT

It could just be me, but I seem to hear more about breaking bad, unhealthy habits than building good, healthy ones. While eliminating bad habits is an admirable, brave and an important thing to do, it’s more important to replace those tendencies with new systems and support. Add the action to the inspiration. Put the “how” into the motivation to change.

That’s where I feel things are lacking. There is an endless supply of motivational quotes and memes. Things that get us thinking about change, but what happens next? How do we actually take the next steps to action? Are there things holding us back? Maybe it’s the lack of time, maybe it’s the effort required, or maybe it’s the overwhelmedness of where to begin. Maybe there’s something more to help us make those next steps to healthier, consistent and permanent good habits. I want to explore all of these things this year. 

My word focus 2019 – HABIT.  My goals include pursuing healthy habits in my heart and mind with grace driven, spiritual disciplines. I want to cultivate good habits in my children’s lives and around our home. And I want to incorporate healthy habits for the better physical health of my family.

Building new habits require work and perseverance that lead to character and transformation. Through this year’s word journey, I’m sure I will have my share of hard work, fumbles, fails, and mistakes as I work toward change and transformation. I’m hoping to share with you want I learn and I want to encourage and equip you as I do. Stayed tuned for what I am sure will be a great journey!

Do you have a word for 2019? If so, I would love to hear what you have chosen?