The Beauty of Silence
|Photo by Milan Popovic on Unsplash
I'll be honest, I talk... A lot.
If you know me on a personal level, you know I can talk for hours on end. I love words, conversation, dialogue, expression, music, comedy, TV shows, and podcasts - in short, anything with a pitch. It has been partly this, coupled with my eagerness to learn, learn and learn some more that often leads me to be surrounded by a string of sounds, words, voices, and ideas. A string that often leaves me more saturated, confused and overwhelmed than anything else.
Like with everything else in our lives, the noise was magnified during the pandemic. Staying at home meant Zoom meetings, background music to work, lunchtime conversations with my roommate, Skype dates with family and friends, endless streaming, tweeting, posting, sharing, reading, analyzing, conversing, writing, and of course, TikTok. Everything but stopping.
Post after post I read people saying how this would be a great time to relax, re-calibrate, and reinvent. People took to creating posts, writing captions, scheduling IG lives and participating in webinars to talk about how this would be a great time to stop (do you see the irony here?). We realized we were living such rushed, busy lives. We were encouraged by the impression that alas, the time might have finally arrived when we would all be in agreement on one thing: our need to slow down, pause, reflect, and take stock.
However, six months later (and I'm not sure if we should be in awe or disappointed in our ability to achieve this), it seems we just found a way to speed up all the more.
We produced more workout videos, online courses, and Instagram lives than it would be possible to consume in a lifetime. I even signed up for an exercise app that boasted about having more than 4,000 videos to try out. Say each video is thirty minutes long, that would be 120,000 minutes of non-stop exercising. 2,000 hours. 83 full days (I think I did the math right, but you get the point). And you know what the worst part it is? They got me with that impressive number like I would actually ever be close to completing all 4,000 (and counting!) routines.
In the midst of this, I found this great series by a local church in Vancouver on spiritual disciplines. I saw they had one on fasting, prayer, worship, and service... You know, 'the usual.' If you've been in church long enough, you've probably already heard messages on these. Please note this is not that they are any less important. In fact, our spiritual health hinges on us keeping these disciplines, not out of compulsion or to earn our righteousness, but because they bring us closer to God - the only true source of abundant life.
Yet, one of them in particular caught my attention: silence. I had never heard of silence being a spiritual discipline. Sure, I knew people who went on silent retreats, or travelled to Tibet to "find themselves." But, it never occurred to me that silence and solitude were Biblical, let alone that I should habitually incorporate them into my own life.
Once I heard this message, I couldn't unsee the instances in the Bible where people actively took steps to retreat, to be alone with God. Jesus himself many a time got away from the crowds, even from the disciples, to go and commune with the Father.
A few years ago, I read a book called "One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do." I won't go into much detail about the book, but in a nutshell, it is about finding your ONE big thing (what you were put on this earth to accomplish), how to find it, and what to do when you have. Though I am not in agreement with all the author's points, one of his ideas has stuck with me.
The author posits that in today's world, there is too much clutter. As such, it can be hard to rise above the noise to communicate what we need to. But, I want to propose, it can also be hard to rise above the noise to hear what we need to.
In our day and age, we have all the answers we might ever think we need at our fingertips. With the advent of social media, we don't even need to emit sounds to say volumes. We share. We comment. We react. One thing we rarely do though is stop.
When was the last time you just stopped and took it all in? Just listened, just read, just observed, just sat still, just breathed...no immediate reaction, no formulating a response in your head, no judgement, no blurting out? I know I hadn't in what seemed a very. long. time.
The truth though, is that when I do, I am able to experience joy so much more, to be more grateful, to give better advice, to learn more. Most importantly, I get to know God, myself and others much, much better.
In our 'data-driven' world, it seems that just stopping, enjoying the silence and simply taking things in is counterculture. We've come to celebrate busyness, hustling, quick-mindedness, and connectivity. And while these are all amazing things, I still believe there's something to be said about the beauty of silence and solitude.
The beauty of listening to a song and really taking it in, relishing in the beautiful sounds. There's something undeniably beautiful about being fully present in a conversation... about really, really listening instead of waiting for the next notification to make your phone beep; without making a mental to-do list as the other person speaks; or even without having an answer ready before the other person has finished their sentence. There's refreshment in sitting outdoors one day and opening our ears to nature's orchestra.
However, for many of us, this kind of silence sometimes seems far from relaxing. In fact, it might even seem eerie. More often than not, when I'm home alone, I turn on the TV or play some music to fill the (uncomfortable) silence I am no longer accustomed to.
But silence goes beyond external noises, it's about our racing thoughts as well. It's about what we read online and in books, about the voices (whether auditory or not) that fill our minds. We have an inherent need to stop, to take breaks, to enjoy some silence and solitude. We are thirsting to commune with God, to listen for what He has to say instead of just presenting Him with a string of requests, a "thank you, Jesus, Amen" before rushing to the next thing on our agenda.
In life, just like in music, the silences are sometimes more important than the sound.
If like me, you find yourself feeling constantly tired, overwhelmed, or anxious take some time this week. Talk to God about it. He invited us to come to Him if we were weary and burdened (Mat. 11:28). Let's strive to schedule quiet times in our days and our weeks, more than we strive to schedule (yet another) YouTube live on how to make gluten-free blueberry muffins. Our minds need it. Our souls need it. Our spirit needs it.
Dare to try?