by Scott McBean
My wife and I are very different people. To me, a good date consists of two people reading peacefully in a comfortable coffee shop that serves French press. To Brittany, a good date consists of being near as many people and loud noises as possible. If Phish put on a concert at a carnival and we could hear it while we rode a roller coaster, then that would be her idea of a good date. If you asked Brittany, she’d tell you that I love silence and that she hates silence. In some ways that’s true. I like a certain kind of silence. I like a well-managed silence. I like the kind of silence where I’m in control and can end it at any time. But I’m still actively doing something, like reading, while being silent. That’s my kind of silence. When it comes to Silence as a spiritual discipline, I’m far less comfortable. I’m not in control. I’m not busy with other things—books or otherwise. I’m listening, actively.
I’ve talked to many people who say, “I wish I could just hear God’s voice,” yet, at the same time, so few of us are willing to take on the challenge of listening for it. The mind begins to race. Thoughts stream in, persistently and uncontrollably breaking down Silence’s defenses. I fight to keep these thoughts out, but this leaves me plagued by thoughts about keeping other thoughts out and pushes me even farther from Silence. The hardest part of practicing Silence has nothing to do with finding a quiet place—it has to do with quieting the mind. As much as I love reading books in quiet places, I rarely allow my mind the time and space needed to slow down and take a breath. I struggle to listen, and I struggle to be still. As a result, I struggle to hear.
I know I’m not alone in this. I know most everyone struggles to sit in Silence. It’s an acquired taste, a skill developed only through dedication, practice, and discipline. Nobody does it perfectly, not even Silence veterans far more seasoned than me. One of the best ways to combat our Silence problems, then, is simply to embrace the fact that we’re not going to be perfectly silent no matter how hard we try, and to allow ourselves grace for our busy minds. We can allow our minds to roam a bit, refocusing as necessary. It’s easier to refocus if we don’t have a ton of anxiety building up about how unfocused we really are. I find I experience the benefits of Silence even in the midst of my inevitable imperfection.
Even when practiced imperfectly, Silence calms, soothes, and heals. It refreshes and restores. It brings newness to life. It softens my ever-hardening heart as I connect to God. It doesn’t always feel like a connection is taking place of course, but when I retroactively examine my experience of being Silent I find no other conclusion but that I must have connected with my Creator. And yet, I don’t do it that often. I really don’t know why. Perhaps it seems like too much effort to carve time out of the day to do it. Perhaps I still have some lingering anxieties about the fact that I’m not “doing it right.” I don’t know all the sub-conscious processes that lead me to ignore something so obviously good for me. The reasons for my undisciplined ways are somewhat immaterial, but I do know this: spiritual disciplines are what make it possible for us to stay dedicated to a life of faith even as we experience the inevitable hardship and suffering so inherent to life on earth.
I need practices that calm, soothe, heal, refresh, and restore me. Whether it’s Silence or some other discipline, I need consistent practices that keep me connected to God and His love. Without these things, I’m not sure I’d have the endurance necessary to sustain faith over the course of an entire lifetime. Even with them, it’s hard. Occasionally, I’ll neglect them, but I always return because I know that the practice of Silence, and other practices like it, provides us with the opportunity to receive all the things God gives to help us endure and persevere amidst any variety of trials, tragedies, and sufferings that life throws our way.
Source: Recovering Faith: Words for the Way. Volume 2 [Kelly Hall, ed]