It is so much easier to be busy and surrounded by noise than to be still and silent. Yet silence is essential if I am to draw closer to God, not so much because I need the silence to hear God, which I do, but because before I can draw closer to God, I have to confront the noise within my own life, and that is a frightening process.
As long as I fill my days with noise and busyness, even good busyness, I postpone the hard work of coming to know myself. I may recognize that there is dissonance in my life, but I am too distracted to examine what is causing that dissonance. It’s like taking aspirin because my leg hurts, but failing to take the time to determine that my leg is broken. In our inner lives, the brokenness often exists for years because our “aspirin” of busyness keeps us from reflecting on what is really causing the pain in our lives.
In silence, I confront the broken and the ugly parts of myself. I must force myself to do this, because no one will make me do it. Some will argue that there’s too much work to do, too much need in the world for me to occupy myself with myself. I would argue that I cannot embrace the brokenness of the world until I come face to face with the brokenness within myself. A life without self-reflection leads me to judgments of others, a certainty that I am always right, a propensity to criticize rather than offer compassion.
Coming to grips with my own brokenness teaches me compassion. When I see another stumble, I can accept it because I recognize within myself my own failures. It is what Jesus spoke of when he said that adultery includes lusting after another and murder includes calling someone an idiot.
Immediately after Jesus was baptized and God called him his beloved, he spent forty days in the wilderness. In the silence of that place, I believe he had to confront who he was before he could accept his belovedness and embrace his mission. I wonder if our own pain and insecurity, our own unwillingness to accept that we are beloved is because we cannot or will not be silent long enough to recognize the masks we wear and know why we wear them. Instead we cover over the parts we don’t want to face with another coat of activity, an added layer of busyness.
Jesus said: “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’ (Matthew 7:21-23a) The first step to knowing Jesus is getting to know myself, the kind of knowing that can only come out of silence and stillness.