Here is a free preview of Chapter 21 in Waking Up Slowly. You can get an idea of how you can use these short chapters as daily devotionals to connect more fully to God, yourself, and one another. Maggie and I hope you enjoy!
SOUNDS OF SILENCE
Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I love to watch Maggie when she is overseeing her backyard domain. Sometimes she goes to the fence and lets out a couple of deep-throated barks to let some perceived threat know that she is on duty. Or she patrols every inch of the yard, sniffing as if it is her first and not her one-thousandth time to do this. Sometimes she stops to growl at a feral cat behind the fence.
But the routine I love most is when she lies in the yard with head high, surveying her kingdom in silence. She is completely dialed in, listening for any disturbance that might need her attention. Maggie is most able to take in her world when she drops the barking and growling.
Well played, Maggie. You are doing something most of us humans have a difficult time mastering—simply being silent and observing God’s world.
There is hardly ever a complete silence in our soul. God is whispering to us well-nigh incessantly. Whenever the sounds of the world die out in the soul, or sink low, then we hear these whisperings of God. He is always whispering to us, only we do not always hear, because of the noise, hurry, and distraction which life causes as it rushes on.
Sounds like our lives, doesn’t it? And yet that observation was written in the mid-1800s by hymn writer Frederick W. Faber. More than a century and a half later, it hasn’t gotten quieter. It is hard to imagine that the sounds of the world are not exponentially more cacophonous today. Perhaps the bigger issue isn’t that the world is noisier and more distracting than ever. The relational danger may be our ability to pull into the cocoon of noise-canceling headsets and remove ourselves completely from our surroundings. Sometimes it helps concentration to limit the noise. The challenge is to not let headphones and earbuds become another impediment to finding sacred moments.
Recently, I walked up to one of my younger television crew members and went through a very well-thought-out description of what we needed for the broadcast that night. I waited for his confirmation, but instead he turned, pulled out a well-hidden earbud, and looked surprised.
I had no idea he was in another world while I was talking to him. He had no idea I was lurking right next to him and talking. It was no big deal. We laughed, and I repeated the instructions. Going forward, I did determine to first make eye contact with whomever I was talking to for the best results. It made me think about how often we miss moments of laughter or relational opportunities when we retreat from others.
Yesterday when I took Maggie for a walk, I instinctively reached for my phone and headset. Typically, I listen to music along the way. I can get lost in music, which is not a bad thing. But today I knew I needed something else. I needed to be quiet, reflective, and prayerful about some things that were troubling my soul.
To be honest, some tunes from my rock-and-roll days would have been a much-preferred course. But I knew I needed to think and pray. So while Maggie excitedly sniffed and explored, I prayed for a person who has been adversarial. Did I want to do that? Hardly. But I knew it was important, and I needed quiet to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to my heart. There is something healing and helpful in praying for those who oppose us. It reminds me that God is the One in control. When I trust that, I can relax.
My walk in silence was indeed soothing. It comes as no surprise to find that studies have shown that excessive noise releases stress hormones in the body. Daniel Gross writes, “People living in loud environments experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones. . . . The word ‘noise’ comes from a Latin root meaning either queasiness or pain.”
It will also come as no surprise that the Owner’s Manual addresses our need for silence and solitude.
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.
Perhaps the most consistent role model for the need for solitude and silence was Jesus.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
(Mark 1:35, NIV)
Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
(Luke 5:16, NIV)
Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them.
(Luke 6:12-13, )
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain
(John 6:15, NIV)
Jesus understood the need to recenter and reconnect with the Father. He understood the power of quiet to be able to hear the voice of His Father. How can we think we are able to function spiritually and emotionally without occasional silence and solitude? Finding periods of quiet is different from seeking a day or extended time of Sabbath that we explored earlier. This is not something I am accomplished at. I have probably had more intentional, undistracted time during this book project than I have had in years, if not ever. Noise becomes a habit. If I am alone, I need the television in the background or music in my ears. I am learning that sometimes I just need silence. Silence that used to make me feel a bit unsettled is now becoming a welcome respite to think and pray. A.W. Tozer said that “only after all the noise has spent itself do we begin to hear in the silence of our heart, the still, small, mighty voice of God.”
That requires us to slow down, give up our perceived control, and simply be quiet. I can tell you it does not come naturally in this culture. And this is another reminder that devices can be a wonderful tool, but they must be silenced as well.
I don’t know if it was my three-year-old granddaughter Clara’s peeking at my manuscript that inspired her words of wisdom when she was having lunch with Joni and me recently. Before we sat down at the table, Clara had been playing with a toy cell phone. She dramatically turned off the sound and put the toy device facedown on the table.
“I calmed my phone!” Clara proclaimed. Words for all of us to live by, sweetheart!
Being alone and quiet so you can hear the still voice of the Holy Spirit is about a heart attitude more than location. For me, there is one really important benefit of reflective quiet in the presence of God: it interrupts my typical prayer time of delivering a monologue to God. I was taught to make my requests known in prayer after a little perfunctory praise. I went down my list, and I was done. One-way conversation. I am outta here!
Forcing myself to be quiet gives me a chance to look inward. To see where I might need to allow the light of God’s grace to shine on some dark area. I allow myself to be fully in the moment and not worried about tomorrow. I allow myself the time to reflect on who I am and how the Father looks at me. It clears my mind to clearly think about what needs to be done. I remind myself that I don’t have to constantly manage and be in control.
Although we looked at Psalm 46:10 as a deterrent for busyness in chapter 3, I think it also applies to the idea of quieting down.
Be still, and know that I am God!
The Hebrew word for “be still” might be better translated as “cause yourselves to let go” or “let yourselves become weak.” Sitting quietly with my Bible open to a psalm invites the quiet voice to speak. Often there is nothing but stillness. Isn’t that how a good relationship works? When you feel relaxed and protected with your spouse, you can have periods of silence that actually speak volumes about how you feel about each other. It is in quiet solitude with God that I am wholly present and available to Him. Is there a better indicator of affection than undivided attention?
If my mind is left unattended, it is like Maggie as a puppy. It runs randomly and without restraint. I have had to learn to slow down, unplug, and be still. And I have had a major surprise: I am really enjoying it.
I have practiced this discipline often on this journey. My prior history when writing is to research, research, research. To be sure, I have done a fair measure of background study while writing this book. But more often than usual, I have unplugged the device and turned off all the distracting noise-makers. I have sat in silence and meditated on what God is teaching me. I have thought about what I would like to communicate and asked the Holy Spirit to give me creative direction. Without fail, I have found an idea or a story in those moments of silence. It has been one of my biggest takeaways from this experiment.
It is a lesson I intend to build on. God is powerful enough to teach an old dog new tricks. I invite you to find a place to be quiet today. In the sounds of silence, God may very well meet you.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
(Psalm 62:5, ESV)
A DOSE OF GRACE
Find some time to give God your undivided and silent presence. Start with five or ten minutes. It may feel awkward. Simply tell God that you desire to be in His presence. Tell Him that you want to be attuned to His direction or correction. But most of all, tell God that you simply want to receive His love. Remember there is no condemnation if your mind wanders. This will take some practice, but it is worth it.
Want to read more or find out how to connect more fully with God in 21 days? Go to wakingupslowly.com for more information on how to order.