“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
… a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7
We live in what is sometimes referred to as the “culture of now.” We are used to instant gratification. If you want to know something, you can Google it, but you used to have to go to the library and research for hours. If you are hungry you can get food immediately from a fast food restaurant with a drive-through window without ever leaving your car. While modern conveniences make life easier in many ways, they also make certain things harder.
Waiting in line at the grocery store is harder than it used to be. Traffic brings out such anger in people that we now culturally refer to this phenomenon as “road rage.” It is considered normal for adults to lack the impulse control to do things like wait in a line or sit in traffic without having an angry melt-down that rivals anything a toddler could dish out.
silence in the spiritual life
The “culture of now” has affected the church as well. In our spiritual lives, we’re often unable to sit alone with a Bible and read for long stretches of time. Psychologists refer to this ability as “impulse control.”
If you want to know what it looks like to learn impulse control, volunteer to work in the toddler room at church. If a child wants a toy another kid is playing with, she takes it. The child whose toy has been taken may reflexively respond by hitting or biting. But this stage doesn’t last long. You will see much less of this behavior in a preschool classroom and almost none among elementary-age kids. The reason is not that the lack of impulse control automatically goes away—it must be addressed. Impulse control or self-control works like building a muscle. The more you choose to engage higher levels of thinking and practice self-control, the easier and more natural these choices will become.
silence as self-control
Intentionally integrating silence into your spiritual life gives you regular opportunities to practice self-control. Have you ever worked at something that began as a huge challenge, but one day you surprised yourself by actually enjoying it? Maybe you started running because you knew running was good for you, but you really hated it until one day you found yourself looking forward to your run and continuing past your normal stop time.
Even though the exercise of silence can feel very uncomfortable at first, eventually it will become something you look forward to. Engaging in the spiritual discipline of silence both gives a Christian space to listen to God and a chance to practice skills of self-regulation with God.
realigning our hearts
Silence is also an opportunity to realign your heart with God’s. Sometimes silence means just calmly reflecting on His faithfulness before a busy day. But sometimes it is the place where a certain sin issue can finally be addressed. For instance, have you ever struggled with the desire to gossip? You know it isn’t what God wants, but the pull to be part of a group is strong. Sitting in silence before the Lord gives you the space to be honest with Him about your true feelings and the desire to fit in. Practicing spiritual silence not only helps us learn impulse control (being quiet when we’d rather talk), but it also fills us up so we don’t need to do things like gossip to fit in—because in Christ we truly belong.
The self-acceptance the world talks about is powerful and important, but it falls short of the life-giving joy of knowing that you are both entirely known and completely loved by the God who made and saved you. Silence gives our noisy, crowded hearts the opportunity to turn the abstract truth of God’s love and our belonging into a practical reality that is life changing.