The Beautiful and Terrifying Silence You Need

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Tramping through the snow, I stop for a moment. Everything around me is perfectly still. Only my footprints break the surface of the pure, white snow, and even these are behind me and out of sight. As far as my eyes can see, the world is untouched, asleep. The slumbering trees are soundless, with no leaves to wave in the breeze. The air itself is cold and still, hanging like icicles as I breathe. No birds, bugs, or animals scurry past. Only the blanket of snow and the deep covering of silence surround me on all sides.

Silence is the force undergirding the potential of dormancy, yet we avoid quietness and all that rises in the stillness. With the nonstop hustle made possible by electricity, we have all but annihilated silence from our lives. I must only speak the word, and music—any music written anytime or anywhere—fills my house. Magically, I conjure the voice of any loved one, anywhere in the world, at no cost. By simply uttering a question, I connect to any information I can imagine, within seconds. And yet the downside of this bounty we carry in our back pockets is that we have lost our ability to plumb the rich depths of being still.

Silence—terrifying, illuminating, gorgeous silence—is a gift from God. But we have buried her in our love of noise and commotion.

When we turn off the podcasts, playlists, twenty-four-hour news, reality shows, and social-media feeds, we’re left with nothing shielding us from the two voices we most fear encountering: our own and God’s. We’re left naked, forced to examine what is left when our idols and false identities have been stripped away.

Yet, we need the discomfort of nakedness, lest the fortress of idols we build around ourselves overtake and consume us. Like going to the dentist or scheduling a physical, we must regularly, intentionally strip down all that shields us from silence and dormancy so it does not kill us first. As much as we may hate to admit it, there is life-giving potential in turning everything off for a bit.

Jan Johnson, a spiritual director, describes these unguarded times alone with ourselves and God as the riskiest and most vulnerable, for we are wide open before him. She describes how, in the silence, we discover all those things we don’t want to see—our faults, shame, grief, and loss. We’re required to surrender, to trust, to put our money where our mouth is—for, as Jan rightly acknowledges, in this moment of vulnerability “our theology about God’s protection must be real.”[i]

Is this why we push so forcefully again dormancy, why we try to convince ourselves and others that we can blossom indefinitely without a fallow season? Ceasing to achieve and sitting still in a place of waiting feels deeply vulnerable. The purpose of this discomfort is not misery or despair—though they may be steps along the way. This vulnerability intends to bring “the wholeness, beauty, and adventure of the Kingdom of God to our small sphere of reality today.”[ii] Can we put aside our self-absorbed kingdoms and lay in surrender before the mercy of the Creator, waiting for him to make us new? To receive his mind, his spirit, we must quiet our own and sit, a vessel at rest. For in him is abundance, freedom, shalom. In silence, we invite our pain-filled, self-built kingdoms to be conquered and overtaken by wholeness and beauty.

Death, darkness, and dormancy are never the end in themselves—but always, always a preparation for the life and light and abundance to come.

Can we, with God’s help, learn to accept and embrace the inevitable, Creator-designed spaces of rest and silence that await us with each breath, each day, each week, and each year? By his design, we cannot live any other way. And, how else will we learn to sit with him and receive that final silence when at last it comes for us?


You’ve been reading with Catherine McNeil from All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in this Messy, Abundant World. Get a copy or read a free excerpt of chapter one here. Head over to catherinemcniel.com to get to know Catherine and her writing on faith, motherhood, and many other beautifully messy topics.

[i] Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2017), 31.

[ii] Johnson, When the Soul Listens, 30.

 

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