In a culture that likes to fill silences with noise - meaningful or not - we don’t think a lot about the concept of silence. One of the first times I remember using silence in prayer was when I was discerning which college to attend. My aunt suggested we (she, my mom, and I) try a “listening prayer.” The three of us gathered in our living room, and sat in silence, just listening to God. I am not sure how long we sat, but to my 17-year-old untrained and anxious mind, it felt like quite a while.
When we stopped to listen, I “heard” God speak, like a still, small voice; and it was comforting. <<Click to Tweet
Since then, silence has become an important part of my regularly practiced spiritual disciplines. It is a part of my prayer life. It helps center me, ground me, and reminds me of the Holy Spirit’s presence in me. I’ve gotten better at sitting in silence for longer periods; it’s become more comfortable. Living with a Quaker friend for a year after college certainly helped; I learned a lot about silence from her. That same year, I went on my first weekend-long silent retreat. It was a bit intimidating at first. I thought, What do I do with a group of people at a retreat center with no talking or discussion? Surprisingly, though, the absence of words took away the pressure to engage with others, letting us just be in each other’s presence and more aware of God’s presence among us. I learned things about myself that weekend, and deepened my connection to God in a way that I hadn’t been able to before.
When we strip away the sound and the noise, we are forced to pay attention to whatever is inside of us - feelings, thoughts, prayers, hopes, and fears. We can pay attention to where God is in all of that.
Silence takes us out of our daily routines and reminds us that we are part of a bigger story. While we can practice silence alone, it is sacred when practiced among others, together.
If you haven’t made silence a part of your prayer life before, you can start slowly.
Here are some tips to guide your time of silence:
- Set a timer or alarm for ten minutes, and try do this daily for a week. Increase your time as you get more comfortable with the practice.
- Try it alone, ask a friend, or significant other to join you, or try it in a Bible study or prayer group.
- Pick a word to meditate to focus on - that word can be anything that helps you center - some examples I sometimes use are: “holy,” “Jesus,” “Shalom,” or “Peace.”
- Don’t worry too much if your to-do list, thoughts, or worries get in the way of your silent prayer. Just imagine yourself gently pushing them away, or “putting them in a jar” for later. Sometimes I even stop for a moment and jot my thoughts down, so I can stop focusing on them and come back to them later.
- Listen to what God has to say - sometimes that just means resting in God’s presence.
- Journal afterwards.
Do you have any helpful tips to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
Micalagh is a social worker, writer, wife, sister, daughter, community member, continually learning how to do a better job at each of these roles. She is always contemplating how to love others better and to enjoy the small things of life; to see God in everything and everyone. She currently lives in Belize and has the privilege of teaching and learning from college/university students! She is the Program Director of a Christian study abroad program: Creation Care Study Program (CCSP).