Saturday, August 30, 2008

"S" is for Silence

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Silence: Creating Space to Pay Attention

.by Kristi De Vito


God loves having relationship with me! But I miss God’s attempts to capture my attention. My life is so busy and noisy that I hardly notice God’s constant presence.


Henri Nouwen said, “There was a time when silence was normal and a lot of racket disturbed us. But today noise is the normal fare, and silence, strange as it may seem, silence has become the real disturbance.”


In my own Christian journey the need for silence and solitude has seldom been spoken of or practiced. Much of my training and experience has been about working hard and accomplishing things for God.


Working hard is good. But I didn’t realize that all of this doing is much more rewarding when it flows from my being – that place inside where God loves and lives in me, and I love and live in God…Jesus calls that abiding.


Often I’ve been impressed with the Psalmist’s words: “Be still and know that I am God.” In recent years I’m embracing the practice of “stillness” or silence. In the beginning, and sometimes still, it feels awkward; I wonder if I’m doing “it” correctly. My mind may be everywhere, and it can even feel like a waste of time. But God continues to draw me to silence, and I’m feeling more and more comfortable being still in God’s presence.


So what is silence? I’m learning that it is one of the ways I create space in my life to pay attention to God. God is always paying attention to us; always present to us. It is we who are seldom attentive and present to God. So as I create space for silence, I’m providing myself with the opportunity to listen to God; and listening is necessary for growth and love in any relationship.


Why is silence important? The Bible encourages us to embrace solitude and silence (Psalm 46:10; Isaiah 30:15; Exodus 14:14). Jesus took time for silence (Luke 4:42; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12).


From early Christian history, men and women of God have observed silence as an integral part of their daily lives. Dallas Willard writes, “Of all the disciplines of abstinence, solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life and must be returned to again and again as that life develops.” Even as I write this, I’m still amazed at how little I have seen this practiced throughout my years of following Jesus.


What role can silence play in your life? Larry Warner says, “God desires to communicate His love, grace, peace and very self to us, but sometimes we move too fast and live with too much noise to receive them. In silence and solitude we slow down, extend our open, empty hands of faith and ready ourselves to receive from God whatever God may have for us.”


I like that; especially the last phrase, “receive from God whatever God may have for us.” That says to me that there is nothing manipulative or magical about silence. God’s presence to us is always a gift. We can only provide the opportunity to pay attention, listen and receive.


In my practice of silence and solitude I have run across some helpful suggestions to encourage me along the journey. I hope you will find these encouraging, too.


Suggestions for those who are new to silence…from Larry Warner (www.b-ing.org):

• Let the time be a gift to you with no expectations. God is with you even if you do not “feel” like God is with you. Scripture is clear that there is no place where God is not present. So even if you do not “feel” God’s presence, to the extent that you are able, settle into and rest in God and in God’s presence.

• Offer yourself to God just as you are in this moment. Actually, that is all you can do. One of the most common mistakes is to think we must somehow be different or have a different history or have in some way cleaned ourselves up a bit before we can come to God. None of this is true. The very best you can do is to offer yourself to God right now just as you are. Now of course, God is not going to leave you as you are. Rather, God is going to help you become the magnificent child of God you were always meant to become. In truth, this is what we most desire.


More suggestions…from Karen Cooper k-cooper@bethel.edu:


How do I begin to practice silence and/or being alone?

• Start small and build.

• Take advantage of available space for silence in your daily routine (i.e. walking/jogging, showering, driving, etc.).


What do I do once I get alone?

• Invite God’s presence and end with gratitude.

• Practice silence.

• Notice, notice, notice.

• Have conversations with God.

• Write in my journal.

• Sleep if I’m tired.

• Be emotional.

• Have fun.

What do I do when my mind won’t stay focused?

• Don’t fight mental distractions – this will make it worse!

• Jot things to do later on a piece of paper.

• Express or write your anxieties, emotions, fears to God in a journal.

• Return to prayer when I have released my distractions.

• Dealing with troublesome thoughts in prayer:

» Don’t be discouraged or even shocked at my thoughts. God knew them before me and is not surprised.

» If sin is revealed, confess it, allowing God time to show me its source.

» Return quickly to God, thanking Him for His presence and love and rest in Him.

• Declare my helplessness and my desire to be more whole.

• Keep practicing silence… it will get easier.


Mother Teresa wrote, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we care in our active life. We need silence to touch souls.”


O God, I thank you for experiencing You anew in silence. Help us touch more souls with Your active love.


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Kristi De Vito’s passion is evident in her love for youth workers, encouraging them toward personal, authentic, holy living. She and her husband, Mike, have served in youth ministry for over 30 years. Since 1993, Kristi has been part of the leadership team for the NNYM Southwest Region, where Mike serves as regional coordinator. Kristi focuses on the soul-care of youth workers, providing opportunities for reflection and spiritual formation. She and Mike previously served as co-university pastors at Vanguard University of Southern California. They live in Orange County and have two married daughters

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