Many of us, I think, understand and appreciate the idea of silence and solitude. What we lack, really, is the understanding of how to create time for it in our day.
Personally, I am the kind of person who can think about silence and solitude all day long, but putting it into action is much more difficult for me, because there’s always “something else” that seems like it needs to be done instead.
If, like me, you suffer from this desire to always be reaching for the next thing on your list, here are a few simple ways I’ve discovered I can “make room” for silence and solitude even on the busiest of days. I will warn you right now it is far from perfect. I have read many books and articles about setting aside a certain amount each day for prayer and meditation. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, I found that I needed to take baby steps to get me there.
I know for years I thought, “If only I could get away to a monastery and spend a long weekend, then I would surely make the time to pray!” But the truth is, many of us have either missed our calling as monks or have (more likely) found our calling amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life. If you are striving to be a monk then I suggest you join a monastery; but the rest of us, I think, would find it much more beneficial to look for ways of bringing the “monastery” into our everyday lives.
As a busy wife and mother, this is a sampling of what I’ve found works for me:
- Look for the moments when silence and solitude naturally occur: Impossible! You have no idea how busy I am! You may think. I won’t argue. It’s true. I do not know how busy you are, but… do you take a shower each day? Do you spend time commuting around in your car or another form of transportation to get to work or run errands? Are you ever waiting in a checkout line or waiting for an appointment? Do you make the time to crawl into a bed each night for sleep? If you answered yes to any of these questions, pay attention to what you do with that time. Are you jamming with the radio, checking emails, calling friends, or playing online games on your mobile device? Or… are you soaking in the silence? Observing others around you (or saying a prayer for them)? Observing your breathing, your mood, and your thoughts? As you prepare for sleep, do you fall asleep to the TV, or do you take time to unwind and relax with no distractions?
- Use your time differently. Once you’ve made some observations about what you do with the times that you are alone and or it is naturally quiet, set your sights on using those times for the purpose of silence with God. (You can even begin with just one of those times—the one that seems easiest for you—i.e., every time I’m alone in the car I will not turn on the radio.) For me, I rarely have the radio on in the car, and I try to use any time I’m forced to wait (stop lights, checkout lines, waiting rooms) as God’s invitation to observe and pray for those around me or to mentally count my blessings. I have found that shower time and bedtime are actually much more difficult times for me to embrace the moment, but perhaps you would find it easiest to start there.
- Set your alarm ten to fifteen minutes earlier than usual. I am a morning person by nature, so when I am the last one to wake up I tend to feel as though I’m already behind. This is not a good way to start the day! I’ve learned that during the week it is important to me that I am up before my kids whenever possible. That means I set my alarm for 5:30 AM or sooner. During that time I make myself a cup of hot tea and sit down to read the Bible, but for a moment (sometimes a few minutes, sometimes ten or twenty), I sit with the quiet. I do not pray with my thoughts or words. I just sit. Yes, inevitably my mind tries to speed up, flood itself with thoughts, worries, concerns, and distractions, but I try to just observe them and let them float on out of my brain the same way they floated in. I choose not to embrace them! This is the moment of the day when I feel united with the psalmist to, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:11) It is an amazingly calm and refreshing way to start the day!
- Schedule your day. For years as a housewife, I didn’t think this was all that important. There were things to get done and I had faith that I would get them done as I went about my day. But, over the years I had the same complaint…there was never enough time for the same three things: exercise, fixing a healthy meal, and spending time with prayer. I eventually realized that I made myself the victim of my schedule instead of the creator of it. Many of us know the story in Genesis of how God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 2:2)…so why do we think we are so special that we need to keep doing and doing and doing with no rest or down time to care for ourselves at all? Once I realized this, I made a commitment to change. Now, I schedule my days in a simple notebook. I pencil out the timeframes that are reasonable for certain chores and when my time is up, I am either done with the chore or (*gasp*) I make myself STOP! Admittedly, this is not a perfect system, but if I at least stop long enough to reassess the rest of what I had written down for the day, I can make a more informed decision about whether it makes sense for me to continue past the allotted time and finish the task, or whether it is more important to move forward and reschedule the remainder of the task at hand for tomorrow. (This works better than you might think!)
- Hold your tongue. I am a self-professed windbag, so this is a true struggle for me. But, over the years I have come to realize that not every comment needs a reply from me, not every story that pops in my mind needs to be shared with the person next to me, not every anecdote, quip or silent moment needs to be filled with my chatter. Silly as it sounds, this was a real shocker for me! For years, I thought my chatter and input showed others that I was enthusiastic and interested in the conversation we were having. And sometimes chatter does that. But, you know what shows even greater interest? Listening! I realize that shouldn’t have been the shocker it was for me when I first started applying it, but it really was. I thought for sure if I didn’t fill every silence with some sort of story or question or comment that the conversation would be full of awkward silences and dissolve. What I found instead was that it gave others the opportunity to contribute more! (Go figure.) This also meant that I didn’t have to do all the work. What a relief! If, like me, quieting down is a struggle, try to let just one or two comments pass through your mind without passing out of your mouth. This, I believe was probably one of my first real exercises in that wonderful fruit of the Spirit: self-control.
- Finally, be patient with yourself! Many of us do not live in a country or culture that embraces or even encourages silence. It takes a certain self-awareness and discipline to bring silence and solitude to the forefront of your consciousness, so berating yourself or trying to hold yourself to some high standard of “perfecting” the silence and solitude in your life will probably only backfire. Instead, have fun with it! Consider it a challenge or a new adventure and you will find yourself much more likely to enjoy the many hidden moments of silence and solitude that await you.
This list is far from complete, so if you have other ideas or examples from your own experiences, I’d love to hear them!