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Spiritual directors have a few questions we keep in our back pockets when we’re not sure what else to say. Ready for them? 

How have you experienced God in this?

What is God inviting you into through this?

It’s that second one I want to spend a second with today, because I find myself asking almost everyone this question lately. Not only that, I keep asking myself this question.

Moving overseas is one of the hardest experiences of my life. I really didn’t expect it to feel this hard. I’m constantly tired. A few small comments can render me sobbing on my bed. A lack of running water for laundry can set me in a foul mood. And after months of challenging myself in language learning, I’m still sometimes met with blank, confused stares when I try to speak. And through it all, I keep asking myself…

What is God inviting me to through these things?

Truthfully, I don’t know. There’s a lot of possibilities. Gratefulness for a privileged life where I haven’t had to worry about water before. Deeper healing for some of those deep wounds that seem to be easily uncovered here. Greater compassion for refugees and immigrants dealing with life in a second language. God could be inviting me into learning all of these things, or, it might be something totally different that I can’t see, because I’m too dang tired from the AC going out in the middle of the night. 

I’m finding, though, that the existence of this question helps me. It helps me to think that there might be some sort of deeper purpose in the struggles big and small. Even more, it helps me to think that God is at work in the struggles, bringing things together. He’s not sitting on high judging me for binge watching Netflix, because I don’t have the energy for anything else. Instead I believe He’s hoping that I’ll look up and see Him inviting me toward Himself in the midst of all the difficulties. 

I find myself often thinking of a song taken from Psalm 40--”I waited patiently Lord, for you to hear my prayer. You listened, and pulled me from a lonely pit, full of mud and mire. You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm, and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you” (CEV). 

So always the invitation is there. To take His hand and sing praises for His salvation. I think I’m probably still stuck in that mud a little, but I’m thankful for His hand, and for the hope that He invites me into a firm and stable place. 

(THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2021 AFTER LIVING IN PAKISTAN FOR JUST A FEW MONTHS. A lot of healing and change has happened since then. Many invitations have been given by God welcoming me to greater fullness.)

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Silence Together (silence pt 2)

It’s probably been a long time since you were in a public (or private) space with other people without some type of background noise or talking. The word “silence” is usually associated with the word “awkward” in a group gathering. Consider the last church (or other religious) service you were at with absolute silence. Maybe you can’t even think of a time. What about the last time you were in a space with people where there was silence--no background music, no keyboard clacking, no coffee machine running, no cars driving past outside. Can you even think of a time this happened? It’s that rare.

Contemplative life challenges these values. I take groups of strangers or casual acquaintances and make them sit in silence together--sometimes for twenty minutes (or more!). Absolute silence. The kind of silence where you can hear stomachs growling and people swallowing their saliva. 

Oddly enough, people usually thank me for making them do that. 

Why? For one thing, it’s accountability. Many people want to create more space in their lives for silence, but it’s hard to do alone. When everybody will hear you if you do anything but just sit there, you can’t escape. Secondly, and more importantly, there’s a shared experience in silence together. It’s this odd thing where you’ve all just done the same thing--been in the same room being quiet, but you’ve likely had profoundly different interior experiences. In a world where we are often talking about what we’ve done, who we’ve met, where we’ve gone, sometimes it takes a long time to get to that interior world. After sitting in silence with a group of people, you’ve all been in that interior world for a little while, so that is easily discussed. 

This is why silence in a group is such a gift. People are constantly talking about how hard it is to develop deep, meaningful connections. I hear people complain about shallow conversations over and over--about how social media is ruining us. Silence together is at least one clear step toward finding solutions for these things. It gifts people with a deep shared experience. Once you’ve sat silently with a group for 20 minutes, you probably at least have some things to say about what that experience was like--even if you didn’t have a particularly meaningful experience. Likely, someone in the group did, and you can spend time learning from that too. 

So give it a try! Get with 2-3 people you’ve heard complain about wanting more depth in relationships and sit silently together. Sometimes it helps to have a focus like everyone considering things they’re grateful for, or even asking God to reveal what His blessings have been. It’s pretty simple, while also impactful. Don’t underestimate the powerful bond that can be forged by silence together. 


Silence is something I find myself talking a lot about.

I grew up in a home with constant noise. The radio or the tv were always on (sometimes both, or multiple ones in different rooms), and my mother has never had great hearing. After my college roommates visited my parents’ house for the first time, they finally understood why I seemed to constantly have either music or TV playing for background noise. 

Now that I have a smartphone and headphones, it’s even worse. I’m constantly listening to podcasts and Spotify. But there is hope! Thanks to my experiences with spiritual direction and contemplative prayer over the past few years, I often feel a beckoning to silence. So I take the earphones out. I put down my pen. And I just sit. Silently. Breathing and waiting to hear from God. Sometimes I have really dramatic experiences with God, and other times it’s just empty. Both are purposeful. 

Here are the basic why’s for practicing silence--even just 5-10 minutes a day:

  1. A short time of silence is like a mini-sabbath. Sitting and doing nothing at all--really nothing--not drawing, not watching tv, not listening to music, not stretching, absolutely nothing, reminds me that I am not that important. The world will not end if I do nothing more than exist for a little bit. The concept of sabbath is spending a whole day of recognizing that truth.

  2. Silence creates more space in the rest of my day. I know it’s bizarre, but a little bit of silence feels a little like cleaning out a drawer. Once I have a clean drawer I can loosen stuff out of another drawer and things can feel less cramped. Silence in the morning does that for my day. 

  3. Listening to God. Usually prayer is us talking, but prayer should be a conversation, which means silence is necessary. Plain and simple. If I am listening well to somebody, I’m not doing anything else. I’m intentionally only listening.

My favorite strategies for practicing silence:

  1. Remember, the goal is prayer, not emptiness. I’m not trying to disappear into some sort of universal puddle through silence; I’m just trying to shut up so that I can spend time with the God who loves me. I needed to broaden my understanding of prayer to really grasp this, but I’ll save that talk for another day. 

  2. If I’ve got a lot on my mind, I’ve got a lot on my mind. On days when I’m particularly bombarded by demands on my mind, I take a couple minutes and write them all down on a piece of paper. Sometimes I need to just rant for a minute, so I do that. Sometimes in the middle of my silence something demands my attention. I just write it down and say I’ll deal with it in a few minutes. 

  3. Visualize. I have a very active imagination, so pictures and visuals help me immensely with silence. My favorite way to enter into silence is by imagining my thoughts, ideas, or things that are stressing me out as images, even just imagining the words. Then I imagine putting them inside a bubble and blow them away. I desperately wish I could do this in real life, because I find it immensely entertaining. 

There are a lot of prayer practices that I love. Many of them rest on this basic foundation of being willing to be quiet and see what comes. So start with this foundation. Sitting silently for five minutes can be strangely hard, but strangely liberating all at the same time. 

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