The Value of Silence
Our culture seems to work against silence and to instead push for almost constant noise and distraction. It’s succeeding, too, and the discipline of silence is falling to the wayside.
While silence isn’t always golden, most people live in a silent-deficient state. Regular silence holds tremendous value and building regular interludes of it into life provides an important tool for growth.
Scripture extols the importance of silence. For example, we see the value of knowing when to wait in silence in Genesis 24:21, and we realize from Elisha in 2 Kings 2:3-5 that some things need to remain unspoken. The best example comes from Jesus, though, and his regular practice of silence. He shows us that silence:
- Prepares us for trials. Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights alone in the wilderness before Satan tempted Him (Matthew 4:1-2). This time away also came just before he began his earthly ministry.
- Helps us make wise choices. Before choosing His disciples, Jesus spent a night alone in prayer (Luke 6:12-13). He bathed one of the biggest decisions of His life in prayerful solitude.
- Provides space to process emotions. As soon as Jesus heard about John the Baptist’s death, he went to be alone (Matthew 14:13). Even Jesus needed space to process emotions.
- Helps us recharge. After preaching to and miraculously feeding over 5,000 people, Jesus again went away to be alone (Matthew 14:23). He expended a tremendous amount of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy and needed to recharge.
- Should be a habit. Scripture tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5:16). In other words, quiet time was a habit for Jesus.
- Should sometimes include others. Jesus took his closest disciples with him for the transfiguration, which took place in a place of solitude (Matthew 17:1). While not a completely silent event, it was private and far removed from busyness and noise.
Jesus spent much of his silent times in prayer, telling us that silence really means an aloneness that allows for connection with the Father. It means finding quiet space away from the busyness of life to focus on the deep part of ourselves that connects with our creator.
Scripture provides another example that speaks profoundly about the importance of silence and also helps direct our silence. To help understand this, please take a few minutes to read Psalm 46 and Psalm 62.
When you read through these Psalms and came to the “Interlude” or the word “Selah,” what did you do? Like most people, as I so often have done in the past, you likely moved on to the next verse without much thought. Yet, that’s quite the opposite of what the words indicate.
The amplified version of the Bible gives insight into “Interlude” and “Selah” by parenthetically indicating a time to “pause and calmly think” of what you just read.
Taking time to pause and calmly think provides a much-needed reminder of the need to stop and spend time in silence.
Silence as Legend
“Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation… tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.” (Jean Arp)
Silence provides a way to truly connect with the information we receive in uncountable ways coming at us seemingly every minute of every day. Unfortunately, many people have grown uncomfortable with silence. In fact, many attempt to fill silence, no matter how short, with some sort of activity or meaningless words just to fill the void. Silence is passing into legend, being steadily replaced by noisy distractions.
As Jesus exemplified and the Psalms encourage, silence gives us a way to focus inwardly to help process our lives in meaningful ways and ward off the numbness that noisy lives seem to create. Perhaps time spent in silence to prepare for trials, make wise choices, process emotions, and recharge would eliminate much of the overload and burnout plaguing us and the ones we love.
Perhaps a habit of silence, mostly alone but sometimes with others, could transform our culture into one of less violence and more meaningful connection. Maybe a culture-wide discipline of silence could be the answer that so many — from governments to marriages to parents to individuals — seek as they find themselves drowning in the busyness and noise of life.