Calm and Quiet Contentment

The Sanctifying Practices of Silence and Solitude

Psalm 131 - 5 minute read

"I have calmed and quieted my soul."

When was the last time you were deliberately quiet, both inside and out? What about  intentionally taking some time to be alone? How can we calm and quiet ourselves in our fast-paced and chatty world?
For some people, the idea of being alone is scary; for others, being quiet is seemingly impossible; for most, both are really hard. Our world today is riddled with distractions, populated with countless shiny, differing ideas grabbing for our attention.

Worries and anxieties about money, relationships, and status often fill our heads and can set us in a burnt-out, discontent, and bitter mindset at the end of the day. Maybe you think that being alone means you’ll have to confront a part of yourself that you would rather leave alone. And being quiet — holding your tongue? No chance. Everyone’s got an opinion to share, a two-cents to give, some prime “wisdom” to dish out.

Is this really what life is supposed to be? A cycle of worrying and competing and caring too much?

"Overreaching ambition is the thing that keeps us from following the Way of Jesus."

Our Western culture celebrates pride, ego, and ambition as the  most important marks of a "successful" person. But the Way of Jesus celebrates other marks as successful: humility concerning what we know and who we are; hunger for deeper relationships and a more Christ-like personal ministry; health in our lives — spiritually, relationally, emotionally, physically, and vocationally; and humor in the ways that we view the world, taking our mission seriously but not always ourselves.

Pride is overvaluing ourselves, undermining others, and under-appreciating the things that God has given us.
Presumption is ambitiously pushing life to its boundaries at the cost of how we live our lives and love others.

These things can skew our minds, misguide our hearts, and weigh-heavy on our souls, complicating our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God.

At their core, pride and presumption both assume, "My way is better than Jesus's Way." Dismantling these things and deconstructing this way of thinking is key in escaping the unease and unrest of busy, overly ambitious lives.

What is silence and solitude?

The spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude are tools we can use to reframe the way that we see ourselves, others, and God. They are alternatives to the fast-paced, achievement-oriented, quick-speaking way of living life that so many have tricked themselves into. But they are not passive vacations from the responsibility of each of our personal ministries. Rather, they are opportunities for prayer.

The Desert Fathers (and Mothers) of the third century — early Church founders of the Christian monastic tradition — did not see silence as not speaking, but as listening to God. They did not see solitude as being alone, but as being alone with God.

Attentive silence, and relational solitude.

"Silence is the home of the word ... Solitude is the furnace of transformation."
– Henri Nouwen, The Way of The Heart
Silence fights pride by saying that your words are not the most important and God's wisdom is better.

Silence allows us to anchor our whole being in the Word of God and to anticipate the words that will be needed. How many conversations have been had that might have benefitted more from silence that words thought to be wise — even words that  were indeed wise? Silence breeds a humble spirit, which allows us to better teach and learn, counsel and advise, fellowship and worship. Silence teaches us to speak, yes, but it also teaches us to listen. Silence provides a foundation to the heart that is needed for speaking only the creative and restorative power of the Gospel. Silence unfolds the infinite, beautiful richness of the Word of God. True silence is held in the heart, not in the mouth or the mind.

Solitude fights presumption by slowing you down for time away from distractions and time with God.

Solitude pushes us out of a compulsion to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful. Solitude asks us to realize that nothing so deeply human, no sin, no failing, no mistake, is alien or shocking to us, thus transforming us to be more compassionate. Solitude extinguishes both judgement — seeing others for the wrong that they have done and the right that you have done — and comparison — seeing yourself for the wrong that you have done and the right that others have done. Solitude pushes us to be (often painfully) aware of our brokenness, so that we might know the suffering of others so well that we simply forget their sinfulness and show only love.
Saint Anthony the Great, the "Father of All Monks"