The Discipline of Silence, Part I

This series on The Discipline of Silence coincides with another series being posted by my good friend, Rick, at Planned Peasanthood. Please take time to read Rick’s first two posts in the series, Quiet on the Set – Discipline of Silence, Part I and Discipline of Silence, Part II – It’s Golden. Rick & I have “talked” extensively about this topic and felt that covering the topic of silence at the same time would provide a unique understanding of the role silence can play. Rick & I come from very different backgrounds, yet the Holy Spirit has weaved our perspectives together in a way that only He can.


7-30-13 sshhShh! Quiet Please!

Libraries used to be quiet places to study and read with minimal distraction. Not so anymore. At least, not at my local public library. People are on computers watching videos without using earphones. Others talk on cell phones at conversational volume. Some use the library for meetings. Even patrons looking for books and the librarians shelving them talk as if they were in their living rooms.

Less and less silence exists for many people,  and seeking it out – even in places where silence used to be expected – is becoming increasingly difficult.

One of my favorite places to run is a local park with miles of trails as well as a disc golf course. When out running recently, I came upon some golfers carrying a radio with them. The sound of the radio in this natural setting was offensive to my spirit. For me, it further illustrated our culture’s avoidance of silence.

I know people who say they need the television on all day “for noise.” Others need music constantly playing, especially when alone. More and more, people seem unable to exist in quietness. And most don’t seem to think it’s a problem.

Why do people avoid silence? People avoid silence to avoid…

  • Hearing their own thoughts.
  • Their conscience.
  • Hearing the Holy Spirit.
  • Thinking about their problems.

If not for avoidance, maybe the absence of silence involves more a habit of…

  • Being entertained.
  • Laziness, apathy or idleness.
  • Letting culture dictate thoughts.
  • An undisciplined mind.
  • An uncontrolled thought life.

Or maybe a lack of silence speaks volumes about a person’s belief system. Perhaps people simply…

  • Don’t value in silence.
  • Don’t believe they need silence.
  • Think silence is scary.

Do you constantly need the television on “for noise”? Do you constantly have music playing? When was the last time you sat in silence, just thinking? Do you enjoy quiet places and spending time in quiet solitude? Consider these questions as you consider the role silence can play in a person’s life.

In our noisy culture, many fail to even realize the constant flow of noise. That is, until it’s taken away. When noise disappears, many realize they dislike silence and then proceed to do whatever they can to fill the void failing to get at the bigger question of why silence bothers them.

Our culture certainly advocates sounds and noises and busyness, all of which work against silence and quiet. Before delving into the value of silence, we must recognize that silence may not always be the best option.

When Silence Isn’t Golden7-30-13 silence

Yes, too much silence can be detrimental and can indicate a larger problem. Silence is not golden when it involves…

  1. Negative self-talk.
  2. Lack of connection.
  3. Lack of information.
  4. Unreasonable emotions.
  5. “What if” thinking.

An important aspect of mental balance and spiritual health involves interaction with people. As we live, work and play in the company of others, we  connect our thoughts in meaningful ways that fail to happen in isolation and silence.

The Need for Silence

We need balance between the noise we encounter and the silence we seek. Certainly, a completely silent and isolated existence does not create a healthy mental or spiritual state.  But our culture is not one where many people live in too much silence. In fact, too much noise often lies at the heart of many people’s lives.

And in that noise, we miss out on a crucial road to balance that only silence can provide.  We need silence to connect with our deeper selves. We need it to process our interactions and the ideas generated as we connect with others.  We need silence to process the information that comes at us constantly in our busy and noisy world. We need silence to grow as individuals.

Bob Edelstein in “The Power of Silence” says that “creative engagement with our internal processes allows us to discover more of who we are, to take in previously hidden aspects of ourselves, and to reconfigure ourselves, if we so choose. This is what allows us to be more deeply authentic in the present moment.”

In other words, we need silence to be who we were made to be and to do what we were purposed to do. The Discipline of Silence, Part II looks at the tremendous benefit that silence brings to our existence. We’ll look at scripture to discover the role silence plays in our discipleship and in our spiritual growth.

DISCUSSION: Why do you think our culture is so noisy? Why is this a problem?

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34 Replies to “The Discipline of Silence, Part I”

  1. Great post! It's a coincidence that I woke up this morning and actually recognized how quiet the house was. The AC was in it's "not quite hot enough to be on" state, the ceiling fan was off and it was too early for Mr. "I'm riding my Harley to work again" to be roaring past our bedroom window. There was so much silence that I thanked God for bringing His peace over our house.

    1. I had the same sort of experience yesterday morning. We went camping this weekend, and while I consider being in nature "silence," it's not exactly quiet. When I woke up at home Monday morning, the house was truly silent compared to the campground. God orchestrates opportunities for silence that will bless us, and they are usually opportunities for us to draw closer to Him.

      1. That's a great point Kari. It's like the silence is an invitation to come closer to Him because He's gonna whisper something…

  2. i think our culture is so noisy because we don't want to hear what we may hear. i seldom have quiet, except when I am studying or having my Quiet Time. I listen to music when I work out or when I am driving. If I am washing the truck, I want music. (I don't however, have headphones when I ride my bike. I just sing songs in my head). Silence means hearing and listening. Sometimes what we hear is too deafening.

    1. I agree. What we hear in silence can be deafening, especially if we've trained ourselves to not hear it for so long. But, gradually, we can learn to appreciate silence again. I've also learned that silence isn't necessarily quiet. I can have silence, say when I'm reading, where I block out the noise around me and where it's really not quiet. Part of the discipline of silence is understanding the importance of silence and why we have gotten to a place of avoidance.

        1. Too late to be up! My brain seems to stay on auto pilot in the mornings, even more so if I can\’t sleep. I just do not think well on lack of sleep. Enjoying some quiet time, listening to the rain… \”silence\” of nature is very relaxing. Want to get in this quiet time before my boys want to interact; otherwise…

  3. Kari,
    I believe even in noise we don't listen. It allows us to tune out; to go into an automatic mode where we don't think we just react to life. Noise takes away those opportunities to think and plan and wonder. What was the last thing we spent time wondering on? So noise in some ways allows us to check out; to not deal with the real issues of life; to slide through life instead of walking purposely.

    I so agree with Chashutch in that God is not going to shout to get our attention. We need to train ourselves to listen and to work to turn down the noise and turn up our thinking.

    1. So many excellent points in your comment! Noise alllows us to operate in auto mode and leads us to react to life. It allows us to check out & slide through with little effort toward self discipline & purpose. We must train ourselves to walk with purpose & to live deliberately, and I just don\’t think it\’s possible when our lives are filled with noise & when we lack the balance that quiet time can bring.

  4. Wow – your library is different than ours! If we even answer our phones in a quiet voice in the library we get a shushing from the librarians! I think our culture is probably noisy because we like to be entertained. Silence is essential because we need it to talk to God and to be aware of His presence. We have lots of silence available in Montana – most of us in western MT don't even have air conditioners because it usually cools off at night, even in the summers. I especially love hiking, camping, and backpacking because I'm also away from the "noise" of having the computer available even if I don't have it on.

    1. My library is just one example. There are others where noise is pushing out silence. I think wanting to be entertained is a big part of it and that this desire is linked to instant gratification too. I love hiking too and am learning to enjoy camping for that reason. Although, camping has become a place where silence is less and less too. People are simply not considerate of others, playing radios and allowing kids to be up and noisy until very late. I love being in nature to escape noisiness, but that is even getting harder to find. I love getting away from the "noise" of electronics too. I've read some about how they are actually changing our brains, and I don't like the idea of that happening at all.

      1. I've heard that too, Kari. If the computer "noise" is too loud, I start my antisocial app (which keeps you off websites like Facebook, emails, etc) for a predetermined set of time or just unplug my router. For some reason that helps me ignore it!

        1. Good idea, Barb. When we go camping, I turn my tablet off as soon as we get to the campground and leave it in my car for the weekend. I have been known to not even take it on vacation with me. I am using it less and less and enjoying the freedom from it. I don't take it to church either, and my husband has stop taking his iphone. Am learning to make it a tool to help me be more effective and not something that becomes a part of my constant thoughts, if that makes sense.

  5. I don't know why our culture is so noisy but I'd like it to quiet down 🙂

    From TV to radio,
    Facebook to blogs,
    there is rarely a place that is silent. Even our churches don't value silence. We can have a great worship service, anointed preaching but as soon as we think church should be over we are out the door. We don't stop to see if God wants to say anything else. We don't like the silence, we want to HEAR, DO And GO when it comes to church. At least this is most of my experience with church.

    1. I completely agree, T.C. The culture of noise has gotten into our churches for sure. I guess we just need to be the examples wherever possible of how quiet and silence can transform a life. The struggle I am having even with that is people seeing me able to live it but thinking it's out of reach for them. I don't know how to close that barrier…

  6. Kari
    I also think noise gives a false sense of security when one feels the noise means things are getting accomplished and things are moving well. It must be because so much is going on. Noise masks the truth.

    1. I agree, Mark. Noise often creates the illusion of productivity, especially when a person’s life is filled with it & completely absent of silence & quiet. Our spirits need time to process life, and we just cannot do this well without that down time.

  7. Although I enjoy music, when I am working I do NOT like any background noise. It is the same when we approach God — come before His presence with a joyful heart ready to listen.

  8. What a great post! In a noise world we need to learn how to take time for silence. I try and make time to be silent (which is hard for me) so I can reflect, think, and allow God to speak to me.

    I think society uses noise as a distraction from the pain of life. If they can be busy and distracted they won’t have to face the issues or problems they have.

    Great thoughts!

    1. Good job for being deliberate about silence, Dan! Keep it up! I agree that society uses noise to distract from the pain of life. What a difference it would make if we dealt instead of avoided.

  9. I think we live in an entertainment obsessed culture – and a culture that is obsessed with always DOING something. We also have the technology to make that a reality.
    But you make a powerful challenge here about the value of silence. Something to really think about. Do we – do I – have enough silence in my life?

    1. Our culture definitely works against this discipline. We have to be very deliberate about not getting sucked into it, and a regular quiet time is one way to do that. If we do nothing, we'll get sucked up by our culture. That I know for sure.

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