Life is Loud
On a typical weeknight, our family will sit down together for dinner sometime between 6 and 6:30. Dinner is an important time for us as it is often the only time of day that all six of us are together at the same time. It is sometimes the first opportunity I have to connect with the kids and hear about how everyone’s day went.
I would love to say that each of us takes a turn sharing the day’s adventures while everyone else listens. That by the end of the meal, everyone has said their piece before transitioning to clean-up and pre-bedtime routines.
The truth is that it’s unusual for both my wife and I to be seated for more than 45 seconds at a time. Someone wants a drink, someone wants more food, someone needs help cutting food, someone else wants a drink, our one year old is screaming because he wants to feed himself and then when we let him, he is screaming because he doesn’t know how to feed himself… you get the picture.
Dinners like these are a microcosm of what our days often look like. Whether it is family life, work, or anything else we’re involved in, there does not seem to be much margin for quiet. Our phones keep us attached to every other part of our life while we’re at home and we’re always on. When I was a kid, if you phoned someone and left a message, sometimes you might wait until the next day to hear back. These days, if I send a text message and it is not responded to right away, I wonder if I should call for a search party.
This is all to say that the opportunity for quiet time, even silence, is limited. If we are lucky, there might be a moment left at the beginning or end of the day to find quiet. But if we let it, the screaming volume of the world seems to fill every other moment of the day.
Silence is Golden?
It is a paradox to me, that when I do find myself in a quiet moment, often the first thing I do is invite more noise in. An example: I am driving with my family to the grocery store. We only need one or two things, so I park in front of the store, and Katie runs in to get the items. The kids are quiet and without thinking about it I pull out my cell phone. It is as if the idea of being left alone with my thoughts for a moment is too much for my mind to bear and so it rushes to make sure that does not happen.
This happens in the evening too. The kids go down and things are tidied up and there are a few precious moments left in the day. Rather than spend the time reflecting on the day or engaging in meaningful conversation, I often end up binge-watching TV or wasting time watching YouTube videos. My phone is an easy source of distraction whenever I need it.
The point is not to rail against cell phones or TV or anything else we do in our downtime. These things are not inherently bad. What I would suggest is that when it feels uncomfortable to spend five minutes in the bathroom without a cellphone, we should dig into that.
Further, rest periods are meant to be just that. If we do not give our hearts and minds time to disconnect and be at rest, we are setting ourselves up for burnout.
Pressing the Pause Button
To block out some of the constant noise, I have been intentional lately about carving out time daily for silence. I aim for twenty minutes. Most days, I feel good if I can keep my mind quiet for more than twenty seconds at a time.
I often have dozens of things on the go in my mind. These could consist of work to-dos, errands I need to run, or meetings I need to prepare for, among others. They are all fighting for attention and trying for sustained quiet in my mind feels like trying to hold the door shut against an army of gorillas.
The idea of spending time in silence, in prayer, could seem self-indulgent to a culture that is looking to extract productivity from every waking moment. For me, those moments are a wellspring. I receive strength, guidance, consolation, and the graces needed to face the day. I notice the difference when I do not get that time.
While the benefits of this time seem obvious to me now, I did not always look at prayer in this way. I used to think of it as a chore. It all had to do with perspective. When God is a distant being, keeping watch to make sure I follow the rules, completing a time of prayer is a faith equivalent to doing the dishes – good to get it done, but not very enjoyable.
Encountering God as a Father who is in pursuit of relationship with me changes everything about silence. Like time I would invest in people I love and care about, prayer becomes the time of fostering a relationship with God.
One of Israel’s most important prophets and a personal favourite of mine is Elijah. The Book of Kings (1 Kings 19:11-13) tells us of Elijah being called up a mountain to meet God. Awaiting the encounter in a cave, Elijah witnesses a violent wind, an earthquake, and a fire. The scripture is clear that God is not in any of the three. After the fire, there is a “sheer silence” and a “tiny whispering sound”. Upon hearing the sound, Elijah leaves the cave to meet God’s voice.
I have experienced that God does His biggest work in the quietest moments. The moments when I have cleared out all the noise and distraction and have created the space to be able to hear Him. Sometimes it is a word, sometimes a reassurance or feeling that He is with me. I have come to realize that I do not need to ‘do’ anything in prayer or feel something for it to be a success. Someone shared an image with me recently. In silent prayer, our hearts are being ploughed like a field before the planting season.
Friends of mine, Brett Powell and Jake Khym, host the podcast Way of the Heart. In a recent episode, Jake shared an experience of being on retreat and being asked to spend some time outside in silence reflection. After going outside and getting irritated at the noise coming from a construction site, Jake heard in prayer ‘Silence is the sound of soul construction’. For most of my life, I thought about prayer as something I did; like I was providing something to God that He needed. God does not need anything from me. He desires relationship with me and in prayer, it is He that gives to me.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
The noise of the world is relentless. For the sake of our minds, hearts, and souls, we need to find ways to disconnect and find silence. It is in the silence that we can reflect on who and where we are.
By fighting for time spent in silence, we give ourselves a reprieve from the onslaught. Further, it is in the silence that we encounter the whisper and allow for something greater to take root. Like all things in life, consistency is what makes the difference.
If you are searching for relationship with God, look beyond the violent winds or the raging fires of life to the silent moments. He’s there, in the whisper.
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