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7-Day Practical Faith Blog: The Disciplines of Silence and Solitude

Psalm 46: 10

"Be still, and know that I am God." This verse might be the entrance for us to a time of silence and solitude, spiritual disciplines we very much need to practice.

As I conclude this Lenten series on spiritual disciplines, I have combined the cousin disciplines of silence and solitude. Typically, to practice one is to experience the other.

Why do we need such times of silence and solitude? I think we instinctively know the answer; as the airline commercial asks, "Wanna get away?" Our lives are loaded up, and that's often our own doing. Henri Nouwen, in his book "Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life," writes:

Being busy has become a status symbol...and one of the main ways, if not the main way, of identifying ourselves.

On the other hand, silence and solitude give us a way to align ourselves differently. We cannot listen to God without being silent; note that the letters in "listen" and "silent" are the same. But this goes against our nature. We're used to noise. We're used to having our minds not only filled, but bombarded.

Eva Marie Everson, in her book "The Third Path: Finding Intimacy with God on the Path of Questioning," describes leading a women's retreat and asking the participants to be absolutely silent for just 60 seconds. Fifteen seconds in, a woman in the back of the room got up and turned on some meditation music. While beautiful, it not only defeated the purpose of the exercise, but it also emphasized Everson's point: We always need some noise! We find it nearly impossible to escape to silence and solitude.

Even when we find solitude and try to achieve silence, our own minds conjure up distractions to our meditative purpose. Nouwen, in his same book, encourages us to continue striving for silence in our minds, and we will achieve it over time:

Time in solitude may at first seem a little more than a time in which we are bombarded by thousands of thoughts and feelings that emerge from hidden areas of our mind. One of the early Christian writers describes the first stage of solitary prayer as the experience of a man who, after years of living with open doors, suddenly decides to shut down. The visitors who used to come and enter this home start pounding on his doors, wondering why they are not allowed to enter. Only when they realize that they are not welcome do they gradually stop coming. This is the experience of anyone who decides to enter into solitude after a life without much spiritual discipline. At first, the many distractions keep presenting themselves. Later, as they receive less and less attention, they slowly withdraw.

Personally, I still find this to be true. I am so easily distracted in my silence. If I choose to quickly consider the thing that came to mind, then I'm already down the rat hole. The best thing for me to do is to drop thoughts on the floor without processing, like a careless toddler done with a toy. I remind myself that I want to stop and think about nothing. This actually works (usually).

To conclude this series, I again remind you that the spiritual disciplines I've covered (Prayer, study, meditation, worship, fellowship, fasting, silence and solitude) are tools, not rules. They are not boxes to be checked. They are instruments to be employed for particular purposes in refocusing ourselves on God and God's kingdom. Each has its own time to be used; fellowship is essential, but so is solitude. May your 7-day practical faith journey be enhanced by applying these spiritual disciplines.

As part of your spiritual disciplines, I recommend using my devotional guide, "30 Minutes Over 30 Days," a month's worth of one-minute devotionals. You can receive it by subscribing to my free monthly newsletter. It's easy! Simply visit any page at, and a pop-up registration offer will appear. Follow the instructions, and you can quickly sign up as a free subscriber. We'll then email you the devotional guide.

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