Have you ever had a life-changing conversation? One where somebody mentions something that hits you in your heart and you are never the same? Just over a year ago, a dear friend mentioned getting away to a cabin for two days of silence and solitude. Something in me opened up at that phrase:
silence and solitude.
In that phrase, my hungry heart recognized something that I hadn’t known I needed.
I leaned toward her and asked, “What is silence and solitude? I think I NEED that. Please tell me more.”
“Oh, Jess. You do need it. I forget that not everybody knows about it. It changes everything.”
She recommended the book, Invitation to Silence and Solitude by Ruth Haley Barton.
I bought it for my Kindle that night.
I think it was written just for me.
The book is about the practice of making space for silence. For taking the time to quiet your mind and heart. For slowing down, showing up, and saying to God: “Here I am.”
This practice is changing me.
* * *
Although church was my world growing up, I had never heard of “silence and solitude.” I learned about “quiet times.” But quiet times, as I understood them, consisted of wordy things like reading my bible or a devotional and spending time praying or journaling. I thought silent prayer was just talking to God, but in my head, without opening my mouth. I didn’t know how to have a quiet time or how to pray without words. And at the time of this conversation, words were tripping me up.
I was stumbling over creeds and beliefs–words that I had taken for granted growing up. The cognitive dissonance ringing between my ears, made my head a noisy, noisy place.
I felt lost. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I knew that I was not where I was supposed to be, but I did not know what should come next.
I was an introvert who didn’t know how to be alone.
And as a tired, tired mama of three small people quiet was foreign to me.
Silence and solitude were unheard of.
But my soul knew what I needed. It was desperate.
Barton speaks of desperation leading her toward silence and solitude. “Desperation is a really good thing in the spiritual life. Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we are looking for. Desperate ones seek with an all-consuming intensity, for they know that their life depends on it.” That was me. Seeking with an all-consuming intensity. I felt like my insides were dying.
She describes our busy, everyday lives as a jar of river water that is shaken up–the constant activity and busyness and noise shakes us like that jar. We need to sit still long enough for the sediment to settle, for the waters to clear. We need to move beyond words in order to truly hear.
That is what I needed. But I worried that nothing might happen. I worried that I might discover that God wasn’t on the other end of this silence.
Even so, I figured that it might just be good to be quiet.
So I sat my messy self down with all of my big questions in tow. I closed myself off in my bedroom while my children watched their television show. I took a few deep breaths, closed my eyes, and said: “Here I am, God.” (That’s how Ms. Barton recommends beginning.)
Those first few times, I think my eyeballs were trying to find something, straining to see something beyond my closed eyelids. Straining to catch a glimpse of God? But eventually, I realized that I needed to let go. I needed to stop trying to make something happen. Just be.
* * *
Silence and solitude have been a gift to me.
I needed a place to let go of words.
For me, practicing silence has given my heart the space to meet God without needing to figure out the proper words with which to address God. Practicing silence frees me from the pressure of figuring out a proper theology. It really is okay for me to just be still and know in my heart that God is God.
“When we run out of words, we are very near the God whose name is unsayable.”[i]
* * *
I don’t know how it happened. But I know that God is doing something in the quiet.
Calming my anxious heart. Releasing me from the grip of fear. Making me new.
[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, When God is Silent p. 91