We’ve all seen them on the freeway—cars with their turn signals blinking steadily, but not changing lanes, driven by old guys in their extreme seventies or eighties. Apparently, some old men activate their turn signals before they even start the car.
Monastic Cell on Wheels
Being an old guy myself, I do something similar. The first thing I do when I start to drive is to turn off the radio if it’s on. Yes, often before I even fasten the seat belt. I value the solitude of being alone in the car and I enjoy the silence. Road and motor noise is still there, of course, but that soon becomes just background white noise.
In the quiet and routine of highway driving I can think about the main points of a blog post or an article I am writing. I can pray for people and situations, and I can talk to myself as I think through a problem or make plans for a project.
What I find most valuable, however, is to quieten my mind and let thoughts well up from deep within. New ideas, old notions with a new twist, and interesting concepts—my subconscious happily brings up these sorts of things into my silently waiting conscious brain so I can play with them. Yes, I toy with a new idea, handling it, dressing it up as my granddaughters used to do with a new doll.
Walking, biking, sitting on a hilltop, or just in an easy chair in an quiet house gives the same opportunity. Solitude and silence and are the keys that unlock our innermost wisdom and insights.
What God Says Directly
God knows there are times we need to stop working, struggling and talking. That’s why He tells us “Be still (stop whatever you are doing) and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)
God also knows that His people sometimes rebel and avoid the very actions that will bring them what they need the most. Isaiah 20:15 states God’s frustration, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”
What God Says Indirectly
Wise people throughout the ages have reiterated the value of silence and solitude. Nearly four-hundred years ago, Blaise Pascal, a brilliant scientist, inventor and Christian philosopher wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (The generic word “man” includes women and children!)
I’ll never forget overhearing some women behind me in the grocery store checkout line. “Our TV quit last week,” one complained, “and I always have it on whenever I am home. It was three days before we could get a new one, and it was so quiet. I felt terrible, like someone had died. I hated to go home, I couldn’t stop thinking.”
Solitude and Silence are two of the basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life that have been taught and practiced for many generations. The two disciplines go together, as fellow Dutchman, Henri Nouwen, well-known Christian author and theologian wrote, “Silence is the way to make solitude a reality.”
Some Practical Ways
When I go into my study to read, write or think, I close the door and have instant solitude. Silence is easy when there is no one else home, but usually my wife, Jo, is there, talking on the phone or checking out YouTube. So, to cover these distractions I play music on my computer, usually classical, smooth jazz or country & western. All of it instrumental—absolutely no words. Too distracting.
I am usually the only one not tapping and swiping his phone in the clinic waiting room. I stare at a far wall, and let my thoughts come. Recently I got this idea, “Pray silently for every single person in this room to have peace and health. Pray for the nurses to do their procedures efficiently. Pray for the doctors to have insight and wisdom in diagnosis and prescription.”
My personality is mid-way between introvert and extrovert. Silence and Solitude are probably easy disciplines for introverts. How about you extroverts, who love interacting with others? How do you practice these disciplines to unlock the treasures within your own mind?