In The Silence

This was originally posted on my church’s blog. You can see the original post here.

I stop. I thought I heard something. I turn and scan the landscape to my left, where the noise came from. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch crunch. I see nothing, but the noise is there. Then I spot it, a bird jumping about the leaves that have fallen from the trees.

I take a deep breath and refocus my eyes on the horizon in front of me. It is fall, bright colors all around. The sun is just low enough and piercing rays of light shoot through the trees. If I were still a child, those piercing beams would be a weapon. But with the years I’ve spent out here, I know they’ll do no harm. As I scan the landscape, I see oranges and greens and yellows and reds. The leaves on the trees are vibrant and bright, which I then notice is contrasted against the brown leaves resting on the floor of the grove. The leaves don’t quite cover the ground, as it’s still a little early in the season for that. Rising from the coverage of brown leaves are grasses and weeds, too many varieties to count.

Some time has passed and it’s silent now, no birds chirping, just the sound of the wind whistling through my ears, which is so typical with the Oklahoma gusts. I start walking again. More slowly this time. I’m not sure it’s really a walk, probably more like stroll or mosey. One step after another slows to one step and then a pause. I take in my surroundings again for a brief moment and then start walking again. To my left are the trees, to my right is field, and in front of me are the tire tracks I’ve been following back to where I came. I reach the end of the tracks and come into an opening. In front of me is a fire pit surrounded by chairs, a shed, and my truck. I turn and, still walking slowly, head towards the truck.

I reach the truck and lower the tailgate. First I set the fishing pole in the back. I grab the strap of the tackle box off my right shoulder, lift it over my head and sling it further up the bed of the truck. I grasp the tailgate and lift it, though not forcefully enough as it doesn’t completely latch. I let it back down and slam it. *BANG*

I turn and survey where I just came from, wishing I had just a little more time to spend in the woods. I take a deep breath, the kind that only comes from fishing or being out in wilderness. I turn slowly and walk towards the cab. At the driver’s side door I reach for the keys in my pocket. Gone…. where did I put them? My mind has been so absent even this common task of opening the truck door slipped from it until it was right in front of me. I walk back towards the pickup bed, stretch over the side of the bed and grabbing the tackle box. I find the keys rather quickly and retrace my steps back to the cab. As I hoist myself into the driver’s seat, I lift the key to the ignition, turn and it starts right up. SCHSSSSSS. The static of the FM station I use for my Bluetooth receiver is loud, obnoxious, and overwhelming. I quickly turn off the radio. 

Ahh, silence again.

I put the truck in reverse, park, then drive, and turn up the tire tracks leading out the other side of the opening towards the dirt road. Very soon I’ll be back on the highway headed toward home, but in the meantime I just let the truck coast. No need to hurry, no need to fret. I’ll be back home soon enough. Let’s just relish this one last moment.

I reach the dirt road and stop, having to close the gate on the property. I close the gate and return to the truck, immediately turning the radio and Bluetooth on. A mechanical voice intones “Bluetooth paired.” I grab my phone out of my pocket and start the latest audiobook. This one is a fiction story of a guy playing a fictional video game, to leave his fictional world for a better fictional world. A real mind trip, I’ll tell you.

That was the last time I experienced it. What’s “it”? Silence and solitude.

Today’s world is built in a way that silence and solitude is elusive. With so many events and constant noise, it’s not something that comes easily. We always have something to do, with work, school, church, kids, and TV. No matter what we’re doing or where we are, we create noise to avoid the boredom.

As soon as we jump in the car, the radio immediately fires up or we start a podcast or music playlist before even buckling the seatbelt. When we return home, we turn on the TV or put on music so we can have some background noise. We go from thing to thing to thing, leaving little downtime in between. It could even be reading or learning or listening to others, all great, but all taking up space that we so desperately need.

In all this, I have a question: as a Christian, without these disciplines, is it really possible to connect with God? While that podcast or sermon you’re streaming is great, are those your thoughts or that teacher’s thoughts? With no room left in our minds or souls, we no longer have original content. The thought leader’s convictions are our convictions, because making time for our own convictions is too hard. We just don’t have enough time.

Our phones have become space fillers for every blank moment in the day. Before this technology, there were natural times built into our rhythms, but now we have to seek those out. I believe today it is harder than ever to truly study the word or hear the voice of God. 

The dichotomy is that it has never been easier. The resources we have are immense and endless, but it requires concerted effort. It’s a blessing and a curse. We complain we cannot hear the voice of God or don’t feel close to him, but we’ve not left him any room.

For 2020, the spiritual focus for our church is the word. So in 2020, I plan to seek out silence and solitude. There are many different spiritual disciplines I could seek out, but the reason for this is simple: if we don’t know how to sit in silence and solitude, we limit the ability to hear God consistently. I believe this is a bedrock discipline that requires more effort today than it ever has, but will also reap more rewards in today’s culture than we could imagine.

In my mind, silence and solitude is a keystone habit. A keystone habit is a habit or practice that leads to a cascade of other desired habits or practices. Keystone habits are not something I came up with, but it is a truly powerful concept. A good example of the keystone habit is being physically active. If you’re more physically active, you desire to eat healthier because you don’t want to undo the progress in the gym. Because you’re exerting more energy and eating healthier, you sleep more deeply and wake up more rested. This one habit creates a domino effect that affects more than that one specific area of your life.

In this way, when seeking out silence and solitude, I believe there will be a natural outcropping of more time in the Word, more clarity in decisions and spiritual pursuits, and less distracted prayer and worship.

Silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking and solitude is the practice of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.

The idea in each case is to “Set your minds on things above” as is stated in Colossians 3:2.

In committing to this practice of silence and solitude in 2020, I plan to more deeply study scripture and meditate on the deep truths of what I’ve been reading.

I plan to dig in and pray through where I’m led, while also journaling through my thought process. I hope the extended prayer and scripture reading will lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation for scripture, which will in turn open up the opportunity to worship the King.

Every day at work I look down at my phone and see a text message from my wife. Sometimes it’s a question, sometimes encouragement, and sometimes it’s something goofy. Those text messages symbolize something… she’s thinking of me. The same way that her texts mean something to me, our gestures mean something to God. No matter how small the gesture or how little time you think you have, whether it be a day, an hour, or a minute, your time of silence and solitude with your Lord will not return void (Isaiah 55:11).