After a few weeks off from our Spiritual Disciplines series, we picked back up this week with the disciplines of Silence and Solitude. These might not be spiritual disciplines that you hear talked about very often, but I think they are so important to the soul of the believer and also for the practice of the other disciplines.
As a reminder, the spiritual disciplines are practices that help us grow in our journeys as disciples of Jesus. John Mark Comer describes the spiritual disciplines as “Jesus’ life-rhythms” that we are then invited to practice as well as his followers. This lesson is heavily influenced by the chapter “Silence and Solitude” in Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. He argues that the disciplines of silence and solitude were central to Jesus’ life, so we’ll explore what that looks like for us as well.
Luke 5:15–16 says, “But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” As Luke describes the life of Jesus, he makes sure that we know that Jesus would withdraw himself from doing the good things of his ministry so that he could be alone in the desolate places and pray. He did not withdraw because he was tired of people and didn’t want to deal with them anymore, but rather so that he could be refreshed by the silence, solitude, and time with his Father, and then return to doing the good things of his ministry.
As we take this practice of Jesus, let’s look at what these practices are for our lives today (while I’m describing these as two practices, they really go hand-in-hand as if they were one). First, this begins with solitude. Solitude is not merely getting away from other people as an escape (isolation). Rather, in the words of John Mark Comer, it is being alone so that you can be “with God and with your own soul.” Again, Jesus’ frequent withdraws to desolate places were not because he didn’t feel like dealing with people, but rather opportunities to pray and to refresh his soul in the solitude, which would then allow him to re-enter the ministry with a renewed energy. The solitude then allows us to soak in the silence.
As Comer describes in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, there are two aspects of silence: external and internal. Practicing external silence means quieting the noise around us: removing ourselves from the presence of other people (or at least from the noise of other people), turning off the TV and radio, putting away our cellphones, etc. To practice external silence is stop anyone or anything else from attracting our attention for a certain amount of time. While this may sound easy, it can actually be quite difficult due to life circumstances (teens who can’t drive might not have quiet spaces) or to the fact that the world and culture around us are literally designed in ways to hold our attention captive.
Practicing internal silence, on the other hand, would be silencing the noise within our hearts and minds for a time. This noise can be even harder to quiet. It could be stress, anxiety, fear, or excitement and joy. Our brains are always running, trying to think of what the next thing we need to do is or dreaming about what the future could hold. When we practice silence, though, it’s important to put this noise on hold, or in some cases, finally face the noise that we’ve been avoiding. Sitting in silence can be hard, if we are avoiding fears and anxieties. But practicing these disciplines can be a good way to face these fears and bring them before the Lord in prayer. Learning how to be present “with God and your own soul” is so crucial to a walk with Jesus.
Finally, let’s look at a few practical tips for implementing these disciplines. First, start small. You don’t have to set aside an hour a day for this (unless you want to!). Start with ten or fifteen minutes a day, or even once or twice a week. Remove yourself from distractions, and try to quiet your mind and heart with God. Second, find a spot that works for you. This could be your bedroom, a quiet place in your yard, or somewhere else. Find somewhere you’re comfortable and free from as much distraction as possible. Third, find time that works best for you. For me, this is the morning, but if you’re not a morning person, maybe it’s after school or before bed. Lastly, make it a priority. This can sometimes feel impossible to do, especially if your to-do list is extra heavy. But likely, it’s the times it feels most impossible to do this that it’s actually most important. The busy and stressful times are when our souls are most prone to burn-out and most in need of this time to refresh our souls in the presence of God and freedom from distractions. If Jesus regularly needed to take a break from the busyness of teaching God’s Word and healing people, how much more do we need to practice these things in our own lives!