This ENFJ, Enneagram 2W3, Extrovert girl LOVES to process and learn along-side fellow believers. I can often get in the “bad habit” of signing up for to many studies or conferences because I just get excited to dig into Scripture with my people, it’s what sets my heart on fire.
But, the good heart work of listening to our souls begins with cultivating a practise of silence (time spent in quiet) and solitude (time spent alone).
The soul is like a wild animal-tough, resient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance.”Parker Palmer
I’ll never forget my first introduction to the practice of silence and solitude. I was in college attending a discipleship training course put on by the Navigators. Time well spent learning, growing, serving, and deepening our faith with fellow believers in one of my favorite places in Northern Wisconsin.
Towards the end of our time together, we had a 3 hour “Time alone with God” (or TAG as we called it…insert eye-roll here). I was curious and a tiny bit anxious.
We were each told to go find a place alone, apart from anywhere else and just be with God. There were no questions to walk through or topic to cover. Only me, God, my bible, and the great Northwoods.
I found a comfy spot outside (no surprise there!) to read scripture, pray, and listen. I was excited and expectant to what God might reveal to me during that time.
I wish I could tell you I had some great earth-shattering revelation, but my mind would not shut off. I kept thinking, dreaming, and planning. My thoughts ping ponged between ideas and trivial concerns. Before I knew it my time was up and I felt like I never really spent time just being with God. I quickly jotted a few things down to share with my team, but there was not a depth there and the experience felt lacking.
When I look back on that experience, I see a girl with so much to learn but one who truly wanted to “get it right”. And here is the truth my friends. There is no perfect formula or prescription for silence and solitude. It will look different for everyone and it will change in each season.
In the years since my 3 hour TAG, I’ve learned to let go of expectations and just enjoy the time.
Our hearts, minds, body, and souls live at a frantic pace. There is always more to learn, consume, do, intake, or make happen. Our culture thrives and pushes us to be constant consumers or creators. The practice of silence and solitude forces us to put aside our inner voice telling us to “do, go, produce”, and forces us to just be. It humbles us to realize that HE is the ultimate Creator and author of our lives.
Silence and solitude it one of the most life-giving rhythms in my Rule of Life, but it is also one of the most difficult to keep. I live alone, am unmarried, have no children or pets to care for, and yet I struggle to make time for silence and solitude in my days.
When I choose push aside the to-do list, light a candle, and just be still my soul is renewed and my heart recentered on my Creator.
A life that is full of God’s amazing grace begins with quieting our souls to hear our Father. There are countless examples of Jesus stepping away to lonely, quiet, and desolate places to pray alone.
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.Matthew 14:23
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.Mark 1:35
This practice will take time to cultivate in your day. It will feel akward and challenging to begin with. But friend, it will be so so worth it.
I would encourage you to take just 2 minutes today to sit and be still. Turn your phone on airplane mode, get away from people (lock yourself in a closet or bathroom if you need), and be with your Creator.
If you find your mind anxious or full of hurried thoughts, hand them over to your Father. I like to make a practice of beginning my time in silence and solitude with praying out-loud or writing down any concerns, worries, or anxieties that I’ve been carrying.
The tangible act of speaking my concerns help shift my heart and focus into a posture of letting go, and prepare my heart to listen.
I will often light a candle to signal to my soul that it’s time to rest and settle in. When my brain starts tip toeing into overdrive, I take a few breaths and focus on the flickering light.
Friend, God desires to be with us and hear our hearts cry. The one prayer God will always answer with a hearty yes is “Lord, be with me.” After all, during this season of Advent we are reminded that He is our Immanuel, God with us.
Tips and resources to help you on a grace-filled journey.
Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton
John Mark Comer’s Guide to “Un-Hurry”