Silence & Solitude aren't Four Letter Words
Over the years of being a Christian and of being a pastor, I have personally cringed and seen others cringe when I heard someone suggest to me (or when I suggested to others) silence & solitude as a spiritual practice. For me, it was the word "solitude" and for others it is the word "silence." Either way, those words sometimes can feel like a four letter word of sorts. I've pondered as to why this is the case many times becuase silence & solitude was not only something Jesus did, it was something he sought out and made time for! (Click here for more on this topic.) So, if we, as Christians, are to be more like him and to learn from him and immulate him, then we should want to make time for it as well. So why don't we!?
One of the biggest reasons I loved attending seminary was because it was a season when I got to deepen my relationship with God. The way I did that was through dedicated, intentional, time where I read the Bible and other theological books that helped me get to know God more. There were many times I would look up from reading and see that 2 or 3 hours had gone by! And typically, in order for me to have that awesome quality time with God, I had to be in a distraction-free environment. Looking back at that, I grow almost envious of the time I got to spend with Jesus and the love and closeness I felt with Him. The funny thing is, I (and you) can have that now too! The "problem" is, I choose to watch a movie, read a novel, spend time with friends or family, go for a hike, take a nap, or whatever else I may choose to do instead. And a lot of times, it is because when I think about making time for silence and solitude those words don't sound fun. I don't like being by myself and I prefer having music on most of the time.
Here's the thing I realized though - we don't have to take those words literally. When I was at seminary I practiced my version of silence & solitude all the time and it was a special season for me. During that season I interpreted, and am now re-learning to interpret, those words to mean undistracted space & time. The "silence" for me is more about getting rid of the "noisy" distractions around me: TV, house cleaning, laundry, my dogs, email, texts, etc. I don't necessarily need it to be litterally silent; in fact, as a social person I usually need some sort of sounds around me so I don't feel alone. And "solitude" for me just means I am not around people I know and will talk to. Over time and trying different things I've found there are three places I enjoy when I want to have my version of silence & solitude: a comfy chair at home, a coffee shop, or the library.
Let me break down each for you so you can see why they work for me:
Library - When I want to concentrate a bit more, I choose to go to a library. The library is great because there is free wireless internet, you can stay as long as you want, you aren't expected to buy anything, and it is pretty quiet. However, it isn't completely silent, so I can still hear murmurs of people talking quietly, kids playing, or others typing on their computers. All of that gives me a sense of other people around me so I don't feel alone. Many times, I find a table or chair next to a window so I can get great natural light and am able to gaze off when I'm contemplating something I just read. If it ever gets too quiet, I just pop in my ear buds and listen to some chill music.
Coffee shops - If you can find a coffee shop that has an amazing vibe, great playlist, and a diverse beverage selection, then you are gold! I usually go to coffee shops in the morning, because I have gotten to that stage of life where I don't want caffiene after 1pm (yes, I'm aging myself). But, because I go in the morning, I want/need/look forward to that delicious latte and am excited to sit down and sip it as I read or study the Bible, a good theological book or Bible study. For me, the buzz and hubbub of the coffee shop gives me energy and life. I choose coffee shops with furnishings I enjoy, lots of plants, and great natural light. If I find that, but they don't have the playlist I'm hoping for, then I just bring my ear buds and listen to my own music. Sometimes, I end up going in the afternoon and that's when the diverse beverage selection comes in handy as I typically will drink kombucha or another fun, non-caffinated beverage.
Comfy chair at home - Now there are times when I either just don't want to go somewhere or when the snow is so bad, I need to stay home. In that case, I have a cozy, comfy chair that I always sit in when I'm doing a Bible study or something similar. I specifically choose a chair because it is hard to fall asleep upright. Seriously, sometimes when I read I get tired and if I am on my couch or in my bed I will find myself waking up an hour later and not having read farther than one or two chapters. It can be rather frustrating! Depending on the time of day, I either grab a cup of coffee or a seltzer water, turn on some good, chill music, grab a blanket, and dive in to that day's reading.
No matter where I am, the library, a coffee shop, or my cozy chair in my apartment, there are a few things I have to do and I suggest you do them too:
Turn your phone on silent. If I don't want any distractions, then turning my phone on silent is the first and best thing to do. Then, I won't hear notifications, including texts, Slack messages, emails, etc. Thankfully, when you do end up looking at your phone, you will see if you had a missed call or text.
Have a notepad handy. Many times when I sit down to read all sorts of thoughts start popping into my mind. Sometimes I start thinking about a conversation I had earlier that day or a TV show I want to watch. Other times, I have really good ideas about a work project. Whatever it is that I think of, it is, at that time, a distraction. But, I want to remember it, so I write it down. Depending on what it is, I either write it on paper or in my notes app on my phone. It doesn't matter where you write it, just write it down so that you can get it out of your head and get back to your time with God.
Good lighting. If I want to pay attention to something that I am reading, I know I need good lighting. And if you are like me, then you also need bright light so you don't end up wanting to fall asleep. Personally, I prefer bright natural light which is why I choose coffee shops with good natural light and pick spots in the library next to a window. Also, the chair I use at home is next to a window and I have a lamp next to it too just in case I need more light.
It took me a while to figure out what silence and solitude meant for me. I encourage you to allow yourself to try different locations, times of day, types of chairs, etc. until you figure out what silence and solitude means for you. Who knows, for you it may litterally mean no noise and an isolated place like a hike where you listen to the Bible on audible or a Bible study podcast. Just don't be afraid to take the time and try different things until you figure out what works for you. And don't get discouraged when something you try doesn't work, or doesn't work right away. It took me a long time to get used to writing my ideas down and looking at them later; at first I was nervous I would forget the idea or forget to go look at what I wrote down. But I rarely forgot either and if I did, I later realized it wasn’t that important anyway.
If you have any other tips that have helped you, please leave a comment. Or, if your silence and solitude looks different than mine, let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear and maybe someone else reading will get a good idea from you!