We know we need them but a lot of us avoid the healing disciplines of silence and solitude at all costs. Several years ago, a study was published where researchers gave subjects a choice, sit alone with your thoughts for fifteen minutes, or give yourself an electric shock. One quarter of the women and two thirds of the men chose the shock. Good grief, really? Why?
I think there’s likely a lot of different reasons for their choices, let me suggest three.
1. We’re not sure that silence and solitude are accomplishing anything in our lives, so we either never begin or give up shortly after we start. I get that. As someone who loves to get stuff crossed off my list, it’s a herculean task to sit quietly, doing nothing when I could be getting so many things done. This quote by Ruth Harley Barton helped with my dilemma. “Solitude will do its good work whether we are aware of it or not, most of what happens in solitude happens under the surface. We may not have any cognitive understanding of it but make no mistake God is working there.” Knowing this convinced me to move silence and solitude to the top of my daily to-do list.
2. We’re afraid of what we may have to face if we choose to engage in silence and solitude, so we just keep running, keep producing, keep going. John Ortberg says, “being alone with our thoughts can be frightening, we fear doing nothing because it would mean facing up to the inner realities that distress our souls, the fear, the anger, the sin, the loneliness, and the failure.” So, we refuse to go there. It’s tragic because, its in the silence that God comes to meet us with cleansing for our sin, comfort for our disappointment and hope for our heartache. And yet many of us end up running full tilt away from the very thing that will heal our souls.
3. We avoid silence and solitude because, in the past, they have been associated with isolation and pain. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a young pastor who was struggling with incorporating silence and solitude into his life. When I asked him why, he didn’t hesitate, “I was raised in a home with a punitive father, whenever I did anything that annoyed him, he told me to go wait in my room. I would wait in silence for my angry father to meter out my punishment.” This young man had no idea how to flip the script and change the faulty pattern that had been laid down for him. As we talked about the ways he could incorporate these needed disciplines in his life, he came up with an idea. He decided to use his 30-minute daily commute as a quiet, solitary time to meet with his loving heavenly Father. He was choosing to change the narrative. It was a perfect solution for him.
I’m not sure why you might be avoiding the disciplines of silence and solitude? Does it seem like a waste of time? Are you afraid of what you may have to face? Is there pain in your past that keeps you from engaging in solitude. I think it helps to honest with yourself and then talk it out with someone if you need to. You’re not alone in your struggle. But it’s worth wrestling it through because these life giving, life changing disciplines, will become places of rest for you in the currents of life and ministry you are facing.