When we first think of silence and solitude, we may not care much about it, or we may think it sounds religiously sexy and hipster, cool, and trendy.
Until we try it.
And then we are shocked and maybe terrified by it.
Because in silence we feel exposed and naked, and weirdly we become noisy. Not outwardly but inside our heads. So we quickly dismiss it. “Nah, I’m good.”
But here’s the unsexy and unpolished truth: our aversion to that nakedness and the awkwardness and ugliness we feel are actually why we need to do it. We need silence and solitude. If we never experience it, we are continually buzzing, always anxious, wired, and on edge, empty and spiritually thin and malnourished.
This, of course, is what we see in the Church and the lives of individual believers today. A lack of spiritual life and vitality. People going through the ‘Christian motions’ without the emotions. Going through the traditional, religious, daily habits of prayer and Bible reading and yet not experiencing life. Just existing. Or, already spiritually dead and not knowing it. As Paul reminded Timothy, these are people “who hold to the outward form of our religion but deny the power thereof.”
And here’s the worse part: This feeling of nakedness, ugliness, and awkwardness is just the beginning. If we stay in the desert (solitude with silence) longer and push through it, up bubbles a myriad of distractions, random ideas, images, and thoughts that feel so uncomfortable we wonder, “Do I really have these thoughts? Where is this coming from?”
But to stay put in the quiet place is to stay put in the desert. A place we can’t survive on our own, where mirages of our false self pop up again and again. And we are desperate for someone to save us and meet us there. Thirsty for just a drop of water.
And that’s where these words of Henri Nouwen speak to us over and over again as a beautiful reminder.
“The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Silence and solitude are like a graveyard for all the worst in you and your false self. Dare we say, your religious self.
And, if we want to live into our true selves, the ones Jesus created us to be, we have to enter through the graveyard. We have to take ourselves to the desert. There we will finally discover the real person that God created. Burying the person that we have allowed others and our culture and society to form. The one that religion has approved even though your life was lived on the surface and you were spiritually thin or maybe even dead.
Silence and solitude hurt. So, we naturally work hard to avoid it. We want to avoid the silence and the solitude because we don’t like what happens and what we see when in the silence. And, we have been fed this non-biblical idea that time alone with Jesus (our morning devotions) was therapeutic, beautiful, serene, and peaceful. Just not true. Being in His presence is life changing. And, it means facing who we are so that we can become who He created us to be. That is difficult and can even be seriously messy and painful.
So, it seems we have two options. We can go around my true self and stay within the noise. Or we can go through to our true self within the silence and the solitude.
The beautiful part is that even though it’s messy and painful and glaring, we aren’t alone.
Jesus meets us there. He was waiting for us. In silence. In our pain. And let’s be honest; sometimes it feels like He doesn’t show up. But when we keep showing up – again and again – He doesn’t leave us out in the cold alone.
As the prophet Isaiah said, Jesus gives us “streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19). He meets us in the place of death with sustaining life. He won’t take us out of that place, but He will sustain us in it.
In fact, when we see His face in those moments, it’s almost as if we’re not waiting for Him; it’s as if He’s been waiting for us. In that mundane, everyday ordinariness, we see Him. Face to face. Eye to eye. And we start to hear something different.
Not noise, but His voice. And He says, “This is your true self. The one I saw when I died for you. I’ve been here the whole time, waiting for you to get here.”