Everywhere we go in today’s world, there’s an abundance of noise. Silence has become a thing of the past, yet we’ve never needed it more. Learn how to tap into the beauty and benefits of one of today’s most precious commodities: silence.
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It’s a new year, and it’s a time where many people take stock and evaluate the past year, or the coming year. What do you hope for this year?
At Write from the Deep our hope and prayer for us and for you is that we’d all grow and deepen in our relationship with God. In our intimacy. Toward that end, we started a series last year on activities, or practices, to deepen our relationship with God.
As we said before, some people call these practices spiritual disciplines, but we don’t necessarily want to think of them that way. They’re not disciplines for discipline’s sake. We’re not doing hard things just to make ourselves spiritual.
These are activities that are all about spiritual growth. They’re about tightening our connection to God and flourishing in our relationship with him. We want to grow in our conformity to Christ and in our role as his witnesses.
Today we want to talk about silence. Maybe you’ve had a very busy holiday season, and silence is something you welcome right now. Or maybe the never-ending cycle of busyness has restarted after a holiday break, and silence feels like an impossibility. Or maybe you miss the sounds and festivities of friends and family celebrations, and you wish it weren’t so silent right now.
Whatever your situation, we want to give some thoughts and ideas of the good that can come from silence. We’ll talk about how and why you’d want to nurture and establish silence in your daily life.
WHAT IS SILENCE?
First let’s talk about what silence is. Good ol’ Merriam Webster has several definitions, but the first one we want to talk about is the “absence of sound or noise: stillness.”
Absence of sound or noise; stillness
When you think about it, true silence—the absence of ALL noise—is hard to come by in our world today. There’s an abundance of mechanical sounds like cars, washing machines, office printers, and lawn mowers. There’s also a plethora of technology noise: beeps, whooshes, dings, rings. There’s entertainment noise—TV shows, music, social media videos, news broadcasts, the neighbor’s barbecue party. There’s even natural noise: birds, rain, wind, cicadas, waves.
Some people may never have experienced total silence, so just wrapping our minds around it might be difficult for some of us. It’s no wonder that silence can make us uncomfortable.
Dallas Willard, in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, has this to say: “…noise comforts us in some curious way. In fact, we find complete silence shocking because it leaves the impression that nothing is happening. In a go-go world such as ours, what could be worse than that!”
He goes on to say, “Think what it says about the inner emptiness of our lives if we must always turn on the … radio to make sure something is happening around us.”
But creating silence—an absence of sound—involves more than just turning off devices that make noises or isolating ourselves from other natural noises. Silence forces us to cease activity, to cease making sounds. Remember this first definition of silence is stillness. We spend way more time than we realize on the go, either in body or mind. Spending time in silence means we stop moving, and we stop our thoughts from endless whirling.
This stillness can make silence even more disconcerting. Dallas Willard says, “Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life.”
So why on earth would we want to create silence? What are the benefits of this disconcerting, possibly even frightening activity?
The Benefits of Stillness
1. Stillness promotes awareness.
Stillness gives us a time and place to evaluate what’s happening within us and around us.
- Are we stressed? Sometimes we don’t even know it.
- Are we exhausted? Sometimes we won’t stop to acknowledge that and do something about it.
- Are we creatively sapped? Has our creativity just been dwindling, forcing us to work harder with worse results? It can be difficult to notice this type of slow drain.
- What troubles are we carrying that we should give over to God? Again, we don’t often realize that we’re piling on burdens, when really Jesus tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). That should be our norm.
- How much activity is really going on in our lives? We don’t often stop to take note of how we’ve overbooked ourselves or how we haven’t stopped moving in longer than we can remember.
- Is there somebody around us who’s hurting, whom we haven’t noticed because of all the other noise in our life?
Silence gives us an opportunity to stop and evaluate and make changes.
2. Stillness strips away the world and leaves us only with God.
Another benefit of silence, of stillness, is that it gives us time to relish and acknowledge a simple, quiet connection with God. God is the only one who can fill our deepest longing and desire.
Acts 17:25 (NIV) tells us “…he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” We need time to soak in this truth, to let it sink deep into our hearts. It’s an acknowledgement of our full dependence on God. That gives us proper humility, gratitude, and a willingness to serve.
3. Silence helps us sort out and identify meaning.
Another benefit of silence is that it gives us time and space to ponder meaning. “Silence attracts meaning. If you stay silent for a whole hour, it will be hard not to write a poem.” (Richard Rohr, “Silent Compassion”)
We don’t want to go through life not recognizing our purpose, our meaning, and the meaning of what God is doing in us, through us, around us, and in the world. We’re here for God’s glory, to recognize his value, to worship and adore him. Meaning and purpose come from him and if we don’t take time to stop and recognize that, we’re missing out on his design for us.
Forbearance from speech or noise; muteness
We’ve talked about silence as stillness, so now let’s turn to another definition of silence. Merriam Webster says silence is “forbearance from speech or noise: muteness.”
The first thing we want to focus on with this definition is ceasing to talk. This can be very difficult for some of us. Why?
- Sometimes the reason we talk so much is because we don’t like silence. We find it awkward. So we talk in an effort to fill the empty space.
- Sometimes the reason we talk so much is because we’re too self-focused to stop talking. It’s sad to say that, but it’s more and more true. Our culture is “me focused.” The pursuit of self-satisfaction is not just normal, it’s expected and celebrated as a “right.” We don’t need to listen because our own thoughts and opinions matter most to us. Here’s what the Bible says about that in Proverbs 18:2: “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”
- Sometimes we talk too much because we simply don’t like to listen. Also, as we become more and more a product of our culture, sometimes we don’t listen because we simply don’t know how. We’re either out of practice, or we’ve forgotten, or we’ve never even learned. That seems harsh, but take an objective look at what’s happening in our world today and see if you don’t see some of these signs.
Ceasing to talk is “forbearance from speech,” but what about the other aspect of this definition: “forbearance from noise”?
We already talked about personal stillness and not doing things that make mechanical noise, but what we mean in this definition of forbearance from “noise” is avoiding things like clamor, babble, grumbling, and piling on of pointless arguments.
- These things show up in arenas like social media and email. Do we need to add to the endless chatter? The overwhelm we already all feel? We don’t.
Many writers have newsletters. Are we saying you shouldn’t send them out because they’re noise? Not exactly. What we’re saying is that you need to take a good look at the content you put out. Be objective and critical, because yes, it might be noise. If it is noise, either change it so it’s communication that truly matters, or don’t send it out. There’s nothing wrong with telling your readers that you’re only going to send letters when there is news.
- Gossip, useless arguing, and unwholesome talk are also a form of noise. We need to practice muteness in those cases.
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
James 1:26 is a pretty scathing pronouncement about our ability, or lack thereof, to control our tongue: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” NIV
Titus 3:9 tells us, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”
In those days they quarreled about the law, but we can strongly consider applying this same notion to arguments about things like politics today.
The Benefits of Muteness
What are the benefits of NOT talking or making noise?
1. We learn how to listen.
When we are forced to cease talking, there is room for someone else to speak. That’s a crucial first step to listening. We need to be silent. If we’re not talking, that also helps us interrupt our own self-focus, which will increase our capacity to actually listen to whoever is talking.
The next step is to ask the Holy Spirit for help in truly paying attention to what we’re hearing. To focus on listening, on considering what someone else is saying, on empathizing and learning, rather than sitting there looking like we’re listening when really we’re formulating our own response.
2. We gain insight.
Listening then turns into another amazing benefit of silence: we gain understanding and insight.
Remember that the Bible calls those who don’t want to understand, who just want to air their own opinions, fools. As followers of Christ, we’re called to compassion, concern, and love for others, which starts with understanding.
3. We learn prudence.
Another benefit of not talking is that we learn prudence. Practicing silence helps our first response to become listening rather than leaping in with an opinion, an argument, or an unnecessary comment. Our words will then become prudent, compassionate, timely, respectful, and wise.
4. Muteness allows for life-transforming concentration on God.
Dallas Willard, again in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, lists another important benefit of not talking: “Only silence will allow us life-transforming concentration upon God. It allows us to hear the gentle God whose only Son ‘shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice above the street noise.’” (Matthew 12:19 KJV)
5. We gain a richer and more satisfying prayer life.
The benefit that flows out of our concentration on God is a richer and more satisfying prayer life. In our prayer life, how often do we go on and on with our talking, and we completely forget to be silent and listen for God?
How often do we complain that we don’t hear from him, and yet we’re always the one doing the talking and never the one doing the listening?
When we stop talking, that opens the door for listening, for hearing God speak, and for time to let understanding come. If we don’t take time for silence in our prayer life, how can God direct us in how HE wants us to pray? We’re in danger of just babbling, or at the very least, neglecting prayer for things God would like us to pray for.
It’s very clear in Scripture that God ordained prayer. God wants us to be prayerfully involved in what happens in our daily lives, praying for our daily bread even, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:11). And we’re to be prayerfully involved on a spiritual “world war” scale as Paul says to the Ephesians in chapter 6:10-20.
When we’re praying as God directs, we can’t help but feel a more dynamic relationship with God and his involvement in all aspects of our lives, from the mundane to the very real struggle between good and evil.
Absence of Mention; Secrecy
One last definition of silence we want to cover is what Merriam Webster says is “absence of mention: secrecy.”
- One meaning of this is to honor the trust of someone who’s shared something with us in confidence.
We don’t go blabbing a secret. We don’t “share it as a prayer request,” and we don’t hint about it to others. We practice the absence of mentioning it. Obviously there are some exceptions in the case of harmful activity, but that’s not the typical situation.
The benefit of secrecy is that you become trustworthy.
People need trustworthy listeners. God made humans to be relational people, and as Christ followers, we should do that in the best way we can.
- Another meaning of the definition of silence as secrecy is avoiding the type of talk that we do to hide poor self-esteem or our lack of confidence.
This might show up as bragging or the need to point out our own importance. Or It might show up as excuses, or assigning blame, or constant diffidence.
In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard says, “We run off at the mouth because we are inwardly uneasy about what others think of us…we use words to ‘adjust’ our appearance and elicit their approval. Otherwise, we fear our virtues might not receive adequate appreciation and our shortcomings might not be properly ‘understood.’”
The benefit of the absence of mention is reliance on God.
What happens when we refrain from speaking to “manage our image”? Dallas Willard says, “In not speaking, we resign how we appear to God. And that is hard.” But he goes on to point out that God is always for us, and Jesus is always interceding for us. The Bible tells us that in Romans 8:31-34:
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
Ultimately the practice of secrecy will help us rely on God for our identity and our confidence. It helps us gain an inner confidence that has no need to speak.
This type of silence, “absence of mention,” or “secrecy,” may bring up a few questions like:
1. What about the need to “defend ourselves” if someone slanders us?
What should we do if someone writes lies about us? Especially if writing is our profession and it could hinder our sales? Are we just supposed to let our publisher take the hit in sales?
- Our first action should be prayer. What does God want us to do about this? We need to take time to listen and obey. Sometimes we’re to respond, but there may be times we’re not supposed to respond. There may be times when we should do as the Israelites were instructed to do as they faced the Red Sea with Pharaoh and the Egyptians hot on their trail in Exodus 14:14. They were told: “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”
- We also need to discuss this with our agent, if we have one, and our publisher, if we have one. Depending on the situation, it might be their job to defend us or speak for us.
- If we’re an indie writer, again, prayer first, then heed what God says.
- Bear in mind that responding to bad reviews is never a good idea. That’s a case where we need to let God be in charge. That person didn’t like our writing. They may even have a malicious attitude. We need to let that go.
2. How do we practice an “absence of mention” in light of the need to market our books?
- Make sure you know what your motives are. Is your marketing about boosting your self-confidence? Is it about “proving something” through sales? Or is it stemming from a task God has given you to spread the message he gave you for his glory? Ask yourself: Who’s glory are you working for?
- Using endorsements from others is another way to market without directly tooting your own horn, so to speak.
- The bottom line is that marketing should come from a desire to serve rather than a desire to profit, even though making a profit isn’t wrong! Supporting your family isn’t wrong. People DO want to read. They want entertainment. They want hope. They want answers to problems. It’s okay to help them find that. It’s okay to serve others and be paid for it. What you want to avoid is believing that you’re the one ultimately in charge of making readers buy your books. God does that.
HOW TO FIND OR FOSTER TIMES OF SILENCE
We’ve talked about what silence is, and what the benefits are of this practice, but how on earth can we make it happen in this noisy world?
1. Be willing to face it.
To benefit from silence, we first need to be willing to face it. Like solitude, which we talked about in a previous episode, the discomfort or the difficulty of silence may make us shy away from it. We may need to force ourselves. Ask God for help!
2. Start with short periods.
Consider starting with short periods of silence, even as little as 30 seconds. You’d be surprised how long that can feel like. Then gradually build up to more time.
3. Incorporate silence into your prayer time.
Every time you pray, start with silence, quieting yourself, even if you’re just meaning to pray a brief prayer before a meal, or for something you just got an email about, or whatever. As you go to God in more extended times of prayer, incorporate longer a period of silence, or several periods.
4. Take time for silence when you practice solitude.
We said in our episode on solitude that solitude doesn’t have to include silence, but it can. Being silent without the presence of others is much easier than achieving silence in the presence of others.
5. Take time for silence before you fall asleep at night.
You could have take time for silence when you first get into bed, or maybe you find a chair in a quiet corner of the house right before you go to bed.
6. Take time for silence when you wake up.
If you have chronic insomnia like Erin does, you have lots of opportunity to practice silence during the night. Or if you sleep well, then try taking time for silence when you first wake up in the morning. Maybe before you get out of bed, or maybe before you shower or start whatever morning routine you have. Or maybe you make a time of silence part of your morning routine.
Consider memorizing Habakkuk 2:20: “But the Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him.” You can recite that to yourself first to help you submit yourself to him and put yourself in the right place before him—humbled, submitted, and taking the time to be still and know he is God.
7. Go outside when it’s snowing.
If it’s winter where you are, like it is here in the United States where we are, maybe you’ll have a day or night where you get a peaceful snowfall. Bundle up and go sit out on your back porch or in your garage or backyard. Chances are that the flakes will fall silently, and snow that may already be on the ground will help to mute the surrounding noises to help you find silence.
8. Pray a specific prayer for silence.
We already mentioned asking God for help with practicing silence when it’s uncomfortable, but you can also pray for help with the practice of not talking in the presence of others. Ask God to remind you to keep your mouth shut and wait and listen.
Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” We encourage you to memorize this and repeat this prayer often!
9. Don’t give up.
Don’t give up if you can’t find true silence. It’s not always possible. I (Erin) have tinnitus, so there’s no longer any such thing as true silence for me. There’s always a ringing. But I can’t let that stop me from practicing as much silence as I can.
There is a reason for the saying, “Silence is golden.” It really is. In our silence, God can do much in our hearts and spirits and minds. Enter into that silence right now and let him know you are listening and ready for his word!Silence isn’t just golden, it’s necessary. Come discover why. #amwriting #christianwriter Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
How do you feel about silence?
Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!
Thanks so much to our January sponsor of the month Kimberley Woodhouse! She’s an award-winning and bestselling author of more than forty books. Her books have been awarded the Carol Award, Holt Medallion, Reader’s Choice Award, Selah Award, Spur Award, Christian Market Book Award, Golden Scroll Award among others. A popular speaker/teacher, she’s shared with over 1,000,000 people at more than twenty-five hundred venues across the country. Check out her latest book: The Secrets Beneath. Connect with Kim at www.kimberleywoodhouse.com.
Many thanks also to the folks at PodcastPS for their fabulous sound editing!
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