When was the last time you heard total silence? I'm sitting in my office as I write this and it is pretty quiet, but I can still hear cars in the background and the furnace running. It isn't complete silence. I remember when I was 13 years old visiting my grandparents in Desert Hot Springs, CA. I went walking and found a path out of their neighborhood and into the desert and for the first time in my life, I experienced complete silence. No sound at all. At first I felt a little anxious. What might I hear in such silence? But then I relaxed and began to really enjoy the silence. It was peaceful and serene. It calmed my soul. And God's presence seemed to be in that silence.
The experience of Elijah here in 1 Kings 19:11-13 helps explain what I felt there in the desert: “The Lord said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
Would you like to hear God's gentle whisper? You can. But it will require silence. It is hard to hear a gentle whisper with lots of noise in the background. Does it mean you need to take a pilgrimage to the desert to hear from God? No you don't. Although, you may want to travel somewhere peaceful and quiet from time to time. We can sense God's presence and hear God's voice by practicing silence. We find a quiet place and time and schedule an on-going appointment to meet God there. Maybe it is first thing in the morning before everyone else in your house is up. Maybe later at night. Maybe you can find a quiet space at work in which to take your lunch break. This is the easy part. Next we have the hard part.
The hard part is to stop talking. And not just talking out loud. But talking in your head. The relentless stream of thoughts and worries and fears that are constantly taking up your mental energy. Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone and you were mostly thinking about what you were going to say next and not really thinking about what they were saying? I've done that far more than I care to admit. Well, we can do that with God too. We load up our prayer time with our requests and end up doing all the talking and none of the listening. Silence is an invitation to listen to God. To stop talking. To just be. To wait with expectation for whatever God may choose to give you.
Most of us are afraid of facing the silence. This whole idea of intentionally entering into silence may terrify you. And this isn't without reason. Sometimes when we first enter silence our pain is what meets us there. The pain we've been trying to drown out with noise. The pain that we don't want to face or deal with. The pain we've been trying to wish away, eat away, or drink away. But if we will face that pain in God's presence and bravely feel it for what it is, we will immediately begin to find healing. Then this fear that keeps you up at night will begin to shrink in size. From there you can begin to sense God's presence prompting you in a direction. That direction is usually more about who you are becoming than what you are trying to accomplish. You may be prompted to forgive someone. To have a difficult conversation with someone you love. You may be prompted to set boundaries or take some time off work for rest and restoration. You may be prompted to reach out to someone in need. To give back to the community. I can't tell you for sure. You'll just have to try it for yourself to find out.
I would invite you into silence this week. You will need to schedule it and to seek it out. You may find that it makes you nervous. That's all right. Try it anyway. Trust that God will meet you there with "a gentle whisper." Yes, you may feel some of your pain when you get there, but I'm certain you will also find healing and grace as well. And in that silence, God will prompt you towards actions that will make you a better human being. And you will often feel the "peace that transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
May you enter into silence this week and experience God's presence and grace there.