I think most Christians today would agree that a regular period of silence before God is important. “Quiet time” we call it. Most of us would agree, but if we’re really honest, most would also admit that we are reluctant to submit to the quiet. It should be a relatively simple thing to accomplish but something about silence frightens us. Paul Tournier says, “We have to realize that we always resist doing quite simple things that we know we ought to do. If we can manage to understand the reason for this resistance we are on the way to self-discovery.” Perhaps Dr. Tournier is on to something. Maybe we’re afraid of self-discovery. Maybe we’re afraid that if we get quiet before God He will show us things about ourselves that we don’t like; things we don’t want to admit.
I think, like so many things in the spiritual life, our difficulty with silence stems from the fact that we come to it with faulty presumptions. I have a tendency to spend my quiet time rattling off prayers as fast as I can conceive them, as if I’m under some kind of time constraint. In the end it’s rare that God has an opportunity to get a word in edgewise. How much better would it be to realize that a period of silence before God is to be used to engage and deepen our relationship with Him? So many times throughout the Gospels Jesus stole away to the wilderness to be alone before His Father and pray. It was a time of community between a Father and a Son and it is the model that we are to follow.
Our church in Houston traditionally held a prayer vigil during Holy Week. Someone would post a large chart on the wall in the parish hall and everyone would sign up for one-hour blocks to spend in the prayer chapel, round the clock, during the days leading up to Easter. Typically, I would volunteer for a 5 AM to 6 AM slot for all seven days. Often, I spent my time like I assume everyone else did; sitting in the little prayer chapel, praying through the basket of written prayers that grew as the week wore on. But the most profound experiences of silence and spirituality I ever had came on the rare mornings, the sun not yet risen, when I tread carefully down the wooden, spiral staircase into the nave. I would remove my shoes and sit barefoot at the base of the sanctuary steps, the building illuminated only by the candle above the ambry. No words were ever spoken but I knew I was standing on holy ground. I never revealed these actions to anyone, but it was in these moments that I felt closest to our Lord. It was in these moments that I believe I learned most of what I know about being a Christian.
My son is two and a half and is in near constant motion. He jumps and flops and runs and shouts. Most of the time, the idea of solitude with him in the room is laughable. But every so often he will crawl into my lap and snuggle with me. It is happening less as he gets older, but I believe it is those moments that strengthen the bonds between us, much more so than when we jump, flop, run, and shout together. When he will let me, I love to wrap my arms around him and rub my face in his hair. Although I am silent, I pray for him. I pray that he will remain healthy, that he will grow strong in body and faith. I pray for the little girl that will one day be his wife and I pray that he will be an honorable, Godly husband to her and she an honorable, Godly wife for him. I pray for things he cannot yet dream of, let alone understand, but I do so because I know these things are coming and must be prayed for. These times of silence are a gift.
When we take the time to be silent before God, I believe something very similar is taking place. Although we may not know it, in the silence our Father has wrapped His arms around us and is praying for things we cannot yet dream of, let alone understand, but He does so because He knows these things are coming and must be prayed for. I believe it is through these times that our bonds with God are strengthened and I believe that God’s heart aches for time with us, in much the same way that my heart aches for time with my son. These times of silence are a gift.
May we all have humble spirits, simple lives, and loving hearts.