The Spiritual Disciplines of Silence & Solitude

We are not accustomed to quiet or to stillness. But in the Bible the Lord clearly shows us its importance.

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Deborah Haddix

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Barraged with constant chatter, we are not accustomed to stillness.

The assault is continual and comes at us from without and within. The gift of hearing means that during our waking hours, we contend with external noise. Physical in nature, this is noise that exists in the outside environment. And then there’s internal noise. This is anything going on inside our body that causes distraction. Remember that constant dialogue going on in our minds?

Under this assault, quiet does not come easily. Furthermore, to be quiet enough to listen is very difficult for most of us. Unused to silence, it makes us uncomfortable. Consider that we squirm in the hushed stillness after a question has been asked. Likewise, we fidget during a lull in conversation. And we turn on televisions, music, and more when alone, just for the noise.

In Scripture

In 1 Kings 19:12, we get a glimpse of the importance of silence. Here, the Lord showed Elijah (and us) that to sense His presence and hear His message we must be quiet. And in that quiet, we need to listen for “the sound of a low whisper” of the Holy Spirit. 

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

1 Kings 19:12

Now that is silence! To be still enough to listen for “the sound of a low whisper.”

Silence & Solitude – Defined

Silence

Silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought.

We might choose to observe a time of silence where we pull away from the noise of our world, sit with the Lord (without speaking), and listen for His whisper. Or we might choose to be silent for the purpose of reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture, praying, journaling, or engaging in any of the other Spiritual Disciplines.

Though there is no outward speaking during a time of silence, there may be intentional, biblical self-talk or prayer to God.

Solitude

Solitude is the Spiritual Discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to a place of privacy for spiritual purposes.

As with silence, we might seek solitude in order to participate without interruption in other Spiritual Disciplines. Or we might choose solitude for the sole purpose of being alone with God.

A period of solitude may last only a few minutes or for days.

More On Silence and Solitude

The Disciplines of silence & solitude are usually found together. Though they can be distinguished (see definitions), we will think of them as a pair.

When talking about the Spiritual Disciplines of silence and solitude, it is important to recognize that culture conditions us to be comfortable with noise and crowds not with silence & solitude. We’ve become a people with an aversion to quiet and an uneasiness with being alone.

Technology makes it possible for us to enjoy many benefits. However, the downside is that the appeal and accessibility of these things means the elimination of almost all quiet spaces in our lives.

Whether we realize it or not, many of us have become addicted to noise. It’s one thing to listen to the television or another device while doing housework or chores, but it’s quite another thing to be unable to stay in a room for any amount of time without noise. Even worse is the requirement of background noise during times of Scripture engagement or prayer. Sometimes ambient music can mask other, unwanted sounds and increase concentration. But it’s another thing to be dependent upon music, unable to function in silence and solitude.

God created us for family, fellowship, relationship, ministry, and other aspects of life together in the local church. Fellowship is His design. And we know this design is for His kingdom and His glory. Yet sometimes our soul craves separation from the noise and the crowds. Times of silence and solitude are essential elements of our relationship with the Lord. It’s a beautiful tension we must navigate.

Modeled and Taught by Jesus

Jesus practiced silence and solitude. 

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

Mark 1:35

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

Luke 5:16

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

John 6:15

These are just a few of the verses that show us the pattern Jesus had of going into silence and solitude. Practicing these Spiritual Disciplines is an important way that Jesus fostered His intimacy with the Father. And in this intimacy, Jesus heard the voice of His Father and received power for His ministry.

And He taught this same practice to His disciples.

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.  And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

Mark 6:31-32

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

The Importance of Silence & Solitude

We practice silence and solitude by finding ways to be alone, away from talk and from noise. These are disciplines of abstinence. We rest, we observe, we “smell the roses,” we do NOTHING. And that is the most important aspect of silence and solitude – doing nothing!  This is not a time for production. It is a time to focus on intimacy with Christ – a time to attend to the Lord alone! 

This Spiritual Discipline of combined silence and solitude is grace. Grace given to us by God. In this posture of rest – of doing nothing – of attending to the Lord alone, we may be blessed to experience the awe of our salvation, the wonder of being justified by His redeeming power.  And in these moments, we realize our status with God is not by any DOING of our own – not by our strivings or by our achievements, but by His grace!

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About the Author

Deborah Haddix

I am a child of God, wife, mom, grandma, daughter, sister, niece, and friend who loves nothing better than spending time with those I love.

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