Silence has long been a cornerstone practice for Christian spirituality, ministry, and activism. This may appear counterintuitive at first and can be easily misunderstood unless we take a look at how silence was historically understood.
Silence was viewed as a furnace for transformation, a practice that forced individuals to see themselves as they truly are. Without words to hide behind, we must face what really drives us and the kinds of people we are.
The desert fathers and mothers believed that regular silence made them more effective when they did choose to speak up, thus making silence more of a means toward a kind of compassionate, caring ministry rather than the end itself.
We Become More Attentive to Others
Cultivating silence has challenged me to stop thinking of what I should say next. If my first step is to be silent, my mind is free to pay more attention to others.
We Avoid Giving Offense
Closely related to the above point, how many times have I tried to think of the right thing to say only to misread a situation because I was trapped in my own mind, thinking of what I should say? Making more space for silence means that I’ll be less likely to say the wrong thing, especially if I give others the chance to speak first and give them my full attention.
We Ground Our Identity in GodRather than masking my imperfections or drowning out my fears with many words, silence forces me to be honest with myself. In that space of silence I’m free to become available to God and to let God reorient my life around his loving presence.
Silence Helps Us Speak
I have often struggled to find the right words to say in certain situations. Am I just adding to the noise?
When I have met people who practice silence and have a thriving spiritual life with God, I have been humbled by the simple ministry of their presence and the power of their words when they do speak. Silence didn’t make them less capable of speaking. Silence helped them know when to speak up and gave them the grounding to speak well.
You can read a bit more about the Christian disciplines of solitude, silence, and contemplative prayer in my book Flee, Be Silent, Pray, available as of February 12, 2019.