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SILENCE: HOW QUIET UNPRODUCTIVE TIME TRANSFORMS

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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