“The Father spoke one word from all eternity and he spoke it in silence, and it is in silence that we hear it.” – St. John of the Cross
There are no disciplines more difficult for me than practicing silence and solitude. My morning routine is a common one for Christians: I sit down on my couch early in the morning, with a cup of coffee and a fierce gusto to be still with Jesus…and then one minute later I’m feverishly brainstorming cool youth group ideas, obsessing over texts I still haven’t responded to, or even fantasizing about what spiritual disciplines book I want to read next. Trust me, the irony of that last one is not lost on me. Every so often I snap out of it and try to refocus, only to return to racing thoughts and distractions. Though our personal reasons may differ, it is clear that human beings in the 21st century have a big problem with silence and solitude. Blame for this can be divvied up among several parties, the smartphone of course being the prime suspect. However, I believe that our struggle with these disciplines is far less of an external problem and much more of an internal crisis. The reason that silence and solitude are so difficult to practice is that they are connected to our deepest indwelling fears.
It is often said that our greatest fear is to be unloved or unwanted, a considerably valid claim that carries with it a tremendous burden of fears and insecurities. However, I believe that our truly greatest fear has another aspect to it: being known. Tim Keller puts it this way: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.” The heart of silence and solitude is to be alone with God. It is to remove all distractions, quiet your environment, and to enter into a space of intimacy and connection with God. We don’t want to be quiet because in the silence, there is only God and us. Our greatest fear is that our Creator, who knows us far more intimately than we could even dare to speculate, would know us, weigh us, and find us unlovable.
The desperate avoidance of solitude is our version of concealing our nakedness with leaves and hiding as God walks through the garden. This is a familiar story of desire and fear: God’s desire to be with us meets mankind’s fear that their secret shame might be proven valid. The practice of entering into silence and solitude carries with it a measure of perceived risk. We are tempted into an “ignorance is bliss” state where we reason that if we are never alone and quiet, we will never have to face the God who surely must be at least a little disappointed or frustrated. We won’t have to expose that addiction. We won’t have to come face to face with the reality that we don’t really want to spend time with God. We won’t have to finally admit that our sins aren’t little playthings, but soul-wrecking monstrosities.
These truths are precisely the reason that silence and solitude are not simply beneficial actions; they are critical rhythms that are vital to our spiritual health. Our fear surrounding these disciplines reveals relational terrors and insecurities that have infiltrated our relationship with our Creator. The beauty of silence and solitude is that it creates an opportunity for a kind of relational healing between us and God. To devote yourself to a rhythm of disciplined solitude is to openly denounce your fears of being unwanted as lies and to proclaim the following Scripture as truth: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.1
Do you believe that? I know that I’m still learning to accept it. Solitude with God, then, is an opportunity for him to reveal our insecurities and misconceptions as untrue. A rhythm of silence with God begins to separate truth from lies and good from evil. It is the ultimate form of relational healing with the God of the universe, with whom we all need considerable relational healing and comfort. It is to choose faith over fear, vulnerability over ignorance. To prioritize times of silence and solitude is to prioritize God’s healing of your deepest wounds, a process that enables and energizes us to be effective healers ourselves. God does not heal us primarily to fix us; he heals us to involve us in his grand work of redemption by giving us clearer sight of the ultimate Healer.
The truth that our Creator longs for us to realize anew is this: the only one who can truly love us is the One who truly knows us, and in him there is no darkness at all. In Jesus there is light, goodness, and grace, and in intimacy with him there is freedom.