Silence…Solitude: Where Art Thou?
Surrounded by a culture of busyness, hurry and noise, it is extremely difficult for one to step outside of their surroundings and enter into the solitude and silence where God’s “still, small voice” can be heard. Kenneth Boa, in Conformed To His Image, explains that the culture holds such influence over the Christian that “people typically approach the spiritual life…supposing that their actions and service will lead to intimacy in their relationship with God.” Boa writes,
While the greatest commandment exhorts us to love our Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), we tend to reverse the order, thinking we can go from the outside in rather than the inside out. Instead of ministry flowing out of our relationship with God, many people suppose that ministry will determine their relationship with God…The focus of the Christian life should not be deeds and actions but a relationship; it is centered not on a product but on a Person.
Many people miss the point that while intimacy with Christ leads to holiness; attempts to be holy do not necessarily lead to intimacy.
One must step outside the hustle and bustle of the world like Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Paul, and especially Jesus, taking time to be alone with God. Throughout the scriptures, such time is essential to Jesus’ spiritual life. If it was essential for Jesus, how can anyone believe that they do not need times of solitude and silence, to hear from God, to rest in His presence?
Robert L. Plummer defines solitude as “complete aloneness for spiritual purposes” and defines silence as “complete quiet for spiritual purposes.” Ruth Haley Barton defines solitude as “the discipline that calls us to pull away from life in the company of others for the purpose of giving our full and undivided attention to God” and silence as “the spiritual discipline of withdrawing or abstaining from noise, words, and activity for a time to become more attuned to the voice of God.”
As my wife and I attempt to follow a “rule of life” in the midst of great chaos and time-marking events in our lives including moving to a new community, buying our first home, watching our oldest son graduate high school, searching for scholarships and going through the process of preparing for college, and beginning as pastor and leader of a new congregation, we have found it almost impossible to take time for silence and solitude.
Our minds are a jumbled mess as we contemplate a to-do list longer than the 127 miles between our previous Charge in Rock Hall, Maryland and our current ministry appointment in Rising Sun, Maryland. How do we take time for solitude and silence? How do we hit the “pause” button and slow down? How does one force one’s self to escape to the wilderness when the world has pushed itself in and appeared to erase any escape route from the hectic pace of this life?
It is understood that one must force one’s self out of the hustle and bustle. It is understood that only by relying on God’s strength and Holy Spirit is it even possible to take such a step. Even so, my wife and I have failed to find the time, have failed to escape to the wilderness, have failed to crawl up in God’s lap and take in the silence and solitude surrounding the divine. The world with its many changes and challenges has taken precedent and quite honestly, has completely overwhelmed us.
But there is hope. Writing and trying to follow a “rule of life” has shown us, very clearly, that if we believed we were taking time for solitude and silence with God, we were wrong. The “rule” showed us what we need to work on in the upcoming months as we break ourselves in at a new church and grow to love a new church family. We want to “press forward” in this area, finding time to simply “crawl up in God’s lap.”
Our “rule” is not a legalistic set of chains that bind us and pull us down in despair when we fail to follow, but instead our “rule” is an opportunity to note areas in our spiritual lives and spiritual practices, in which we are not committed, and to set goals in those areas as we revisit our “rule.” The purpose of these goals is to help us grow closer and more intimate with our Creator. Through this project, we have been shown one area of spiritual discipline, solitude and silence, that we want to continue to attempt to make time for, not because we have to or because we will have failed if we do not, but because in the solitude and silence we will find the “still, small voice” of God.