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Silence as Bravery (Silence III)

Silence is a ‘doable’ practice, but it will take commitment. Furthermore, it will take courage. It takes character to face the fears that tell us to avoid silence altogether. In silence, we must face our fear that, while God is good, perhaps He is not that good. Perhaps not good enough to fully receive and embrace us, not considering how screwed up we may feel. Indeed, before silence opens our souls to God, it first makes us face our doubt and anxiety, both about God and about ourselves. Silence is vulnerable because it makes us face our need for God.

Or, perhaps we avoid silence because we fear that God is truly good, which remains a terrifying reality to our ego, even if we desperately want it to be true.[1]Our ego does not want to be dependent on God, even if he’s a loving God, because this, too, will mean a loss of control (even if our control makes us miserable). Thus, many Christians are happy to avoid silence, never developing an inner life through which they might hear and recognize God’s loving voice. Hearing that voice, we intuit, will mean responsibility, and we are often eager to avoid accountability. Many of us are quite comfortable staying in The Human Paradigm of religious works because we are safe from encountering God while we’re on the treadmill of performance.

Furthermore, silence will make us face things we might rather avoid—things about ourselves and about the realities of life. Our sorrow at the loss of a friend or a friendship, our anger at a betrayal, or the loneliness that drives addiction within us. I have worked hard at trimming my vices, but I’ve also found that vices are like Whack-A-Moles. They keep cropping up unless I address the sorrow beneath them. During the last few months as a pastor, I have felt great sorrow as people have left our congregation for a variety of reasons, some of which I understand, and others which I struggle to grasp. And one of the temptations I have faced is to numb out the pain by buying something. Greed, after all, is a fairly widely-accepted vice in our society, despite the fact that Jesus focused on it as much as any other sin. (For example, I have never had someone come into my home and say, “Wow, you have a lot of books… Do you struggle with greed?”)

I have recognized, thankfully and by God’s grace, that buying things to numb my pain during this season would just be a way of creating more noise for my soul to focus on, as opposed to wrestling with the sorrow which I need to face and not avoid. So I have been intentional to create times of silence—sitting by my bedside, in the shower, and on long walks—in which I can breathe and simply remind myself that God is with me. This has re-enforced me in the wonderful reality that God meets us in our silence and in our pain. God would have us sit with ourselves, so that He can sit with us, too.

But this takes courage and trust. And wisdom, too, and the leading of God’s Spirit. Sometimes our soul does need to avoid sorrow or immerse itself in distraction or noise. Sometimes those things can, in moderation, help to restore us. But our lives become unbalanced without silence; ultimately, we have to face what we would prefer to avoid if we are to be transformed by God. Silence, then, is the cardinal virtue of bravery within spiritual life. In silence, we strengthen our soul to live with God. In silence, we lessen the ego’s grip on our soul, creating space for our spirit to breathe.

It takes courage to live The Slow Life. Rather than avoiding our anxiety by avoiding silence, we’re choosing to face it so that, beyond it, we can see who God is. Seeing Him and hearing His voice will finally bring us into reality and into freedom. As we create spaces for silence, we will find God speaking. We will be surprised by the insights we have and things we start to know and understand. We will discover ourselves “walking in the Spirit.”[2] We will discover how Jesus speaks and guides and directs us, like the Good Shepherd he is. Life, in short, will become an abundant adventure as Jesus’ voice opens us to the work of God’s Spirit in and through us.

For more on this and other transformational topics, click here.

[1] Romans 8:7ff

[2] Cf., for example, Galatians 5:25