First thing that comes to mind is that asking me how I use solitude and silence as a spiritual discipline is akin to asking a fish how they feel about water. Being alone and being still comes naturally to me, and I think even if I weren’t a Christian I’d need it to function. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that solitude and silence really do have a profound impact on my walk with God, and that I do use them as spiritual disciplines more than I initially thought.
Daily solitude; have started making this more of a priority by forcing myself to get up early, about an hour earlier than I have to. Honestly, sometimes it’s just about having time to drink coffee and wake up, but my goal (which I occasionally achieve) is to take that hour to spend time reminding myself about God’s priorities, perspective, etc. Prayer, reading my Bible or another book about walking with God, just reflecting on God’s goodness and on how my concerns and plans are so small a part of the picture. Remembering that God loves me even though I woke up crabby and don’t want to get out of my selfish shell and face the day.
Occasionally through the week I spend time by myself outside. Time to quiet my heart and absorb the peace and stillness of nature, and remember that God has my times in his hands. Reflecting on the beauty of God’s creation; trying to wrap my head around the fact that the creator of all this intricacy and all these marvels also loves me more than I can believe.
I try to take a couple of weekends a year or maybe even a bit longer to get away by myself for several days. This isn’t a super-spiritual retreat weekend necessarily where I spend hours on my knees on hard concrete in prayer or where I forswear all talking and human interaction. More about having time to let my mind settle, time to get away from the (self-imposed) pressure to worry about what other people think and to be still.
Why is this so important? First of all, I’ve found that my brain just hardly ever settles down. I’m not talking about constant super-intelligent or grandiose thoughts—just a constant buzz and clatter of conversations with myself, review of the day, what I said, what I might have said, and ideas about all sorts of completely random things. I’m guessing I’m not the only person to experience this… :-/ It actually usually takes me a few days of solitude to even fully realize that I’ve been alone—after about two days, my mind starts to calm down and I find that I’ve processed most of the internal dialogue enough that there is some stillness. Then on the third and fourth days by myself, I am much more able to be still, silent, and listen.
Sometimes solitude isn’t comfortable. Ugly things float to the surface of my awareness—I become much more aware of the attitudes I’ve been holding, and they’re often not pretty. Ungratefulness, fear, selfishness- solitude can be a place where I’m intensely convicted of not just sins, but my deep sinfulness.
The main thing I notice, though, is a renewed ability to hear God’s proclamation of grace to me. Ever since I was a kid, my walk with God has been dogged by guilt, and a fear of whether I might be so displeasing to God that I do need to “make” myself better, and that maybe for me his promises aren’t quite as true. Obviously I know this is a lie. But unless I deliberately listen to him, unless I frequently set the gospel of God’s unlimited good favor toward me directly in front of my eyes—the message I hear in my heart is not grace but striving. When I spend time alone, deliberately listening to God and reflecting on his word, I can hear the truth. When I don’t take time to be still, the concerns and opinions and needs of other people and the white noise of my own brain pretty quickly drown out that truth.
If all you taste is bitter and full of striving,
go to the mountains.
Rent yourself a cabin, maybe, just for the night.
Sit on the porch that overlooks the valley; watch the clouds.
Do nothing. Let your heart become still.
Let your head be filled only with the rush of wind in the larches,
and with the voice of God.
Perhaps a tiny bee will perch on the edge of your beer bottle,
licking with its strange long tongue
(light leaking through its translucent yellow belly)
until it leaves satisfied,
full of an unexpected sweetness.