A couple of years ago a friend handed me one of the most unique birthday cards I’ve ever received. Not unique because of its design, but because of what he wrote inside. Written inside the card, as a sort of climax to the typical birthday sentiments, he concluded with a simple thought — take the next year to be quiet, say less, grow, and deepen.
To be honest, when I first read the words I was sort of confused and a little hurt. I mean, “quiet?” For a year? Is it just that he doesn’t think I have anything of value to say and just wants me shut-up?! But, I know my friend and his motives. And, I’ve watched his efforts to build quiet space into his life. Still, the words stung more than they should have. I just couldn’t shake them. Do you ever have those moments? When something jars you, is painful even, but you know down inside you shouldn’t ignore it?
I couldn’t forget his words, but thought to myself about how crazy it seemed.
Quiet doesn’t come easy for me. I mean, anyone who knows me knows how, well let’s just say, “expressive” I can be. I’m an active extrovert. I think out-loud. I process out-loud. My mind swims in thought, constantly. I walk around with a virtual word-balloon above my head, like you’d see in a comic strip, that I use to sort out my thoughts. So, quiet down? For a year? Hard. So hard that the process of becoming ‘quiet’ took me almost a year to even get started.
I entered into this period of “quiet” intentionally, well, partially. My friend’s words kept coming back to mind for months like trail-markers on long hiking trip. The idea gained traction slowly. The tipping point came when a bunch of stuff in my life started to blow-up. The stress was becoming unbearable. I needed relief. I needed clarity. And more than that, I needed peace. These things readied the soil for me.
Sometimes just letting an idea take root can lead to great things.
Let me clarify; I wasn’t literally silent for a year. I didn’t go a year without speaking or communicating. I’m a person who tends to fill my thoughts and actions with activity and busyness. And, I knew that I’d eventually have to talk to my wife and kids or order a taco at lunch, So total silence for a year wasn’t going to work. I don’t think that was my friend’s intention anyway. You see, the challenge wasn’t really about not “talking”. It was about what I might find in the silence. About what I might discover in the stillness of thought. It was about what might arise from deeper places in me.
My friend’s words weren’t an insult, they were an invitation. He was inviting me to step outside of my routine. To be intentional about listening. To observe. For me, it meant to choose a less ‘public’ life. Less external focus. Keeping my thoughts to myself more often. Learning to ask more questions. Limiting my activity and busyness. Pulling back from service projects and ministry activity. To hold back and see what might happen. It was a sacred pause.
“The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart.” – Julien Green
Over the next 18 months I spent time attempting to be intentionally “quiet” (or at least quiet-er). I kicked off my efforts by spending 24 hours in a cabin in the dead of Winter completely alone and didn’t utter a word out loud. (That was really hard.) As the days and weeks passed, I learned to intentionally set aside time, space, to be quiet. And, oh how hard it was. (It still is.)
To be honest, it felt… Unproductive. Inefficient. A literal waste of my time. At least at first.
Stillness… Quiet… it was the opposite of everything I’d learned about how to cope with life, how to succeed. I fought the idea. Old messages played in my head. Be productive. Move forward. Press on. “Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.” (Patton) Idleness is wrong. Lazy. Stagnant. Like an old tractor that sits unused, rusted, who’s wheels freeze with neglect, stillness leads to worthlessness. I’d built my life upon a belief that “productivity” is king and that busyness is its path to success. My year of ‘quiet’ had a good effect — it exposed the lie I’d been fed. I’d found my value and sense of worth in it. And it is stillness that helped expose it’s awful power over me.
The year is long since over. And I still fall into busyness and clutter. But, on the occasions I am able to pull it off, I find these pockets of quiet open a whole new perspective of my world. To the outside world my efforts may not have even been noticeable, but a shift has taken place. I’m learning to create moments of space. Driving in my car, I hold off on turning on the radio. Waking in the morning, I awake a few minutes earlier and lay quietly. In my prayers, I pause, quiet, allowing my mind to clear before diving into words. And, I’ve learned in these times, these holy pauses, that something special happens – I find peace. And clarity. They are literally a rescue for my heart. You’ll be amazed, too, at how your thoughts bloom and take root if you give to God 15 minutes of quiet.
…examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you… ~ 2 Corinthians 13:5
Hiding from our heart in busyness and volume and productivity insulates us from God… insulates us from the reality of who we are created to be… distances us from the very life we seek. This is true no matter how noble and important the activities may appear on the surface.
The invitation I received from my friend was brilliant in it’s simplicity — and its fruit is Life.
Would you consider being “quiet” for a period of time to see what might surface in your heart and life?… to see what might be rescued in you?
Would you be willing to try? Even if only for a few moments?
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls. – Mother Teresa
Jesus, help me create space in my life for quiet. Empower me to resist the pull of the world, everything that grabs at me and clutters my thoughts. As I commit moments to silence, speak. In the weak few moments I set aside, renew my mind, restore my heart, reveal my truest desires, and fill me with your life.
P.S. My friend offered me suggestions for a couple of books to help me. Richard Foster’s, Celebration of Discipline. And, Henri Nouwen’s, The Way of the Heart. I offer these suggestions to you in honor of him.