I was a little dubious a few weeks ago when a friend suggested we go on a silent retreat. If we were going away together, I thought our time could be better spent by going on a hike or having a long conversation or prayer time–together. I wanted to connect with God at a deeper level, but I didn’t think silence was the answer. I could be silent at home, I thought. Still, I acquiesced because my friend is a pastor, wife and mother of twins, so she rarely gets any time to herself.
We chose a retreat center with no cell phone reception. When we got there, I obligingly toted my journal, pen and bible to a spot in the middle of a field, alone. The silence was uncomfortable at first. I moved 5 or 6 times before I settled under the shadow of a tree. As I acquainted myself with the quiet, I unexpectedly felt God’s still small voice in a way I hadn’t in a while. He pointed out areas of my life where he wanted to meet me and encourage me, areas that I had neglected to bring to him. I hadn’t been willfully neglectful or insubordinate; I had simply been inattentive to the clutter that had gathered in my heart, the debris of life’s daily interactions and demands.
Like a gardner tending to a garden, God tended to my soul. I was surprised and touched by God’s gentleness and power. I was also surprised by my own desensitization to noise and busyness. I didn’t know how distracted I was everyday—by email, social media, my phone, constant access to information, and a million things I could do–until I wasn’t. My life wasn’t as quiet as I thought.
This experience reminded me of a devotional written by Marcus Goodyear at The High Calling, which I’ll excerpt below. It’s an inspiring reminder to “plug into silence,” to let God remind us of who we are, before we go out into the disarray of the world. It’s worth reading!
But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. – Luke 5:15-16
A smart phone provides nearly constant access to the noisy crowd of humanity. Anybody can call us at any time. They can also email us, or message us or just broadcast their personal noise into our pockets through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Jesus understood the danger of noisy crowds, so he regularly withdrew to the wilderness to pray. This is one reason why his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30). It is not just that he offers an alternative to rules-based religion. He offers us grace and the means to experience grace daily through prayer.
We have to make it an ambition to pray and lead a quiet life. There will always be more work to do! There will always be a crowd to celebrate our good work. The crowd praised Jesus for what he did, so he withdrew. He stopped healing people in order to pray. Jesus did not come to do good deeds and work hard to redeem the world by the sweat of his brow.
Jesus Christ redeemed the world by his very nature, which could not be constrained by death. We must have this same mindset as Jesus Christ, and, like Jesus, we must withdraw daily and visit with God. God will remind us of our very nature. He will say, “You are my child.” And when we remember who we are before God, our daily to-do lists will be manageable and good. Our obligations will seem light. After prayer, we will be able to pick up the phone and serve the crowd without anxiety.
Questions for Further Reflection: Think about your relationship with technology. Are you a hyper-connected technophile? Are you a luddite? Do you need to learn to slip away from technology to pray? Or do you need to discover the joy in the noise of the crowd?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me retreat regularly from the noise of the world, from too much work, from too many social events, from excessive entertainment, from smart phones that deliver the crowd constantly into my pocket. And after I retreat to you, Lord, help me return to the crowd with the ability to hear its joy and serve as Jesus did. Amen.
This excerpt is also included in Finding Work-Life Balance, a 9-day devotional by The High Calling and Theology of Work Project. Finding Work-Life Balance is available for free via the YouVersion Bible App.