Self-quarantine has called forth some questions of late. Once you’ve finished with the cleaning, gotten bored with the baking, donated more masks than the hospital wanted, and binge watched everything that Netflix has to offer, many of us are left with the discomfort of too quiet homes and unquiet minds. The solitude and silence are getting to me, but I know that both are revered as spiritual disciplines. Why? What do solitude and silence reveal? I have begun to wonder if they compel us toward truth in a way that few things can. Might this be a gift?
Scripture tells us that we are made in the image of God. That’s where our value comes from. Yet our culture tells us something different. Often, we introduce ourselves by what we do. We justify ourselves by how busy we are. We measure our worth on how many social media followers we have, which requires us to create a constant stream of content. We are told that to be loved or happy we need to buy more and try harder. [If only I had a nicer car people would respect me. If only I lost the weight, I’d be happy. If only I had that shampoo, I would find love.] It’s easy to be caught up in cultural expectations.
That’s why solitude and silence are so uncomfortable at times. When I have confused what I do and have with who I am, then it’s very challenging to be still. If my worth is in activity, I’ll avoid stillness like the plague. In reality stillness reveals the absurdity of that belief. It is like the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes who says, “hey, that guy’s naked!” Solitude and silence strip us of our pretense and reveal how flimsy our self-justifications (really self-deceptions) truly are. Yet releasing these false idols opens us to something we were unable to encounter in the noise. Perhaps solitude and silence call us into the fullness of our being.
Do you remember the story of the burning bush? Moses is out in the wilderness shepherding. In solitude. In silence. Then he unexpectedly encounters God. Silence and solitude can prepare us for divine encounters. The work of silence and solitude, the stripping away of our false stories of who we are, helps us to enter into more truthful and thus more intimate relationship with God. It allows us to hear God’s story of us and to create new stories of our own.
When Moses asks God to identify God’s self, God says, “I am.” It’s as if God is saying “I know you want to label me, but my being is enough. My existence speaks for itself. I Am.” What a beautiful picture of freedom. Isn’t that the grace that God offers each of us? God offers us the opportunity to simply be. Without the need to justify ourselves. Knowing that nothing we can do will erase God’s love. Knowing that nothing we can do will earn it.
Silence and solitude challenge our false identities. They also give us space to encounter our true selves. It’s often disorienting for us to give up the stories we have told about ourselves to sit with the truth of who we are. To simply be. Yet we cannot truly receive the love of God until we give up the illusions of who we think we are. It’s only when I am honest about who I am that I can discover and trust that God loves me (not who I pretend to be or who others think I am but who I actually am). Maybe, solitude and silence offer us the most profound gift of all.
So may you have the courage to simply Be.
May you find God with you.
May you encounter grace in new and profound ways.
May you receive God’s love.
May it set you free.