• Richard Parrish

January Reflection by Richard Parrish The Gift of Solitude and Silence



READ


“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? - Matthew 6:26 (ESV) [Emphasis mine]


“Come away by yourselves to a desolate [quiet] place and rest a while.”

- Mark 6:31(ESV)


“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” - Psalm 37:7 (ESV)


REFLECT


The desert chill penetrated my bones.


The Sonoran Desert is not always hot. Winter days are generally pleasant and mild, and early mornings can require more than a sweater. But the chill I experienced that December morning was more than physical.


It had been too long since I had taken time to retreat with God.


My body and soul were tired. My batteries needed recharging. And I know first-hand:


Avoiding solitude and silence only encourages burnout.


As a spiritual director, I encourage others toward the practice of solitude and silence. These gifts serve to refresh our bodies and minds — and warm our soul. The noise of this world can quickly drown out God’s voice. Being overly engaged with activities often distract us from God’s presence.


But it’s easier to encourage others toward spiritual practices than to personally practice them.


I needed solitude and silence to reconnect with God and to find warmth for my soul.


I scheduled three days at a retreat center in the Sonoran Desert. Besides essential communications (speaking with the receptionist about the facility’s requirements), I would spend the next three days in silence.


It didn’t take long to remember how loud silence is!


Enjoying the beauty of the desert, I recognized: In silence, I hear better. I noticed how the sounds of nature — the wind, chirping birds, and even the rustling of shrubbery caused by rabbits trying to escape this intruder’s invasion, were delightfully heightened.


These sounds are all around me all the time, but I fail to hear them, I mused.


As I observed the beauty of the succulent cacti surrounding me, I noticed a bird perched on top of a large saguaro cactus. In silence, I heard Jesus’ words:


“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? - Matthew 6:26 (ESV) [Emphasis mine]

Oh, how I needed to hear those words!


The uncertainty and challenges encountered in 2020, combined with the unpredictability of what’s ahead, make those words an important reminder for me — and each of us.


Even the birds of the air are carefree because God cares!

How much more is God mindful of us?


In silence, I heard Jesus. Not audibly, but in the quiet of my soul. The silencing of the noise of this world awakens my spiritual senses, improving my ability to hear.


Prayer is as much about listening to God as talking to God.


It’s easier to have a list of requests for the Lord than to remain silent and hear God’s whisper. That’s why silence is such an essential spiritual practice. It prepares us to hear God’s voice.


There is a difference between silence and solitude.


Phillip Koch suggests that solitude is: “physical isolation, stillness, quiet, and social disengagement.” ⁠[1] Each of these, except physical isolation, is essential to solitude.


Although Jesus often demonstrates the importance of solitude (Mt. 14:13, 17:1; Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16, 6:12), he always invites us from loneliness to relationship.


Jesus invited his disciples to: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate [quiet] place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). His invitation came when their lives were so busy they didn’t even have time to eat.


Finding reasons to avoid solitude is easy:


There’s too much to do. If I’m not here, who’s going to get the work done? I don’t have the finances to go away. Every time I plan to take a break, an emergency comes up. I’ll plan a retreat soon but now’s not the right time.


There’s never a convenient time. To “practice” solitude (and silence) requires a deliberate choice.


My temptation to stay busy, find another project, or engage in banal conversations is often an unconscious attempt to face my fear of being alone. But why?


Am I uncomfortable with myself? Am I so troubled with pressures that I find busyness more attractive than solitude?


Richard Foster reminds us that: “Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds.” [⁠2]


The Psalmist understands the value of being “still”:


“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” - Psalm 37:7 (ESV)

In Hebrew, the word “still” provides the sense of “growing slack, to release, and to let go.” We have the image of one who relaxes, stays motionless, and remains silent. The “still” person confidently waits in quiet WITH God, not alone.


There were times when Jesus distanced himself socially. What may appear to be self-isolation is inaccurate. In solitude, Jesus is re-connecting with His Father. He’s not lonely; he’s enjoying his relationship with God.


This past year we’ve become well-acquainted with social distancing and self-isolation. We see increased loneliness and the adverse effects of the lack of physical connection. Research by neuroscientists reveals that prolonged separation can lead to physical pain symptoms and that loneliness is not healthy.


Solitude and silence are spiritual disciplines. Like any athlete who is training for an event, they repeatedly practice their routine. Solitude encourages us to release (our thoughts, fears, concerns, distractions), relax, and return our attention toward God.


Silence heightens our senses to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch the goodness of God! But these gifts require our practice. They don’t come easy.


Less than 24-hours into my retreat, I was aware of my “uncomfortableness.” I wanted to reach for my I-phone, go to my computer, grab a book, or find something — anything — to avoid the discomfort of loneliness.


“Be still and know I’m God” became an often-repeated Scripture running through my mind. Each time I would repeat these words in my mind, I was actively demonstrating my desire to be in solitude WITH God.


Slowly — in solitude and silence — Jesus transformed my isolation to companionship and reminded me how the gift of solitude and silence restores and refreshes weary souls.


Not all of us have the luxury of taking time off or the freedom of going away to a quiet place. The good news is: Solitude can be experienced daily, even in our busy lives.


Here are a few ways we can practice solitude and silence in our daily rhythm:


Be aware of the small moments of solitude you have each day:

  • Early moments in bed before the family awakens

  • A solitude moment enjoying a cup of coffee or tea before work

  • On your drive to work, turn off the car radio

  • Pay specific attention to nature (flowers, trees, sky) as you walk

Schedule solitude on your calendar

  • Three, 5-minute appointments of silence and solitude a day, is a healthy practice of enjoying God

Locate a place conducive to solitude and silence

  • A park, chapel, or hiking trail — and use those spaces regularly.

The Psalmist, disturbed by evil and those who seemed to prosper in their ways, recognized how essential it is to be “still.” It’s in solitude and silence WITH God that our soul finds rest, warmth, comfort, assurance, and HOPE.


RESPOND

  • What distractions keep me from being with Jesus?

  • What steps can I take to help me re-adjust my focus on the Lord?

  • What park or “quiet” place is near me? How can I make a place in my home my “Sacred place” to be with the Lord?

  • Do I believe that Jesus enjoys being with me? If not, why?

  • Am I longing to be with Jesus? If not why?

[1] https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/spiritual-disciplines-solitude-silence/


[2] Richard Foster, “Celebration of Discipline, The Path to Spiritual Growth,” (HarperCollins Publishers, 1988), 96


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