Silence and Solitude
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Does this ever happen to you: falling into bed after another long, busy day, hoping for a good night’s sleep, you relax into your pillows ready to soak in the silence. Immediately, like popcorn in a hot pan, thoughts begin to intrude. One of the kids has a dentist appointment tomorrow afternoon—did I remember to ask for a couple of hours off work? It’s not a convenient time for me, with that big presentation coming up Friday. Maybe I can get something done on my laptop in the waiting room. And the dogs are due for their vaccinations. Seems like we just had that done. Time really does fly. Wait, is today Wednesday? I forgot to roll out the garbage can—again. Guess I’ll do it in the morning, if I remember. Seems like I forget a lot of things these days. What’s wrong with me? I used to be so organized. Now I’m just a mess.
Life is chaotic. Even if we’re organized and things generally run smoothly, we’re often reminded how little control we really have. Sometimes we feel that we are simply reacting to whatever the world throws at us, regardless of our well-considered plans. We are at the mercy of the weather, our employers, our families, other people (those we know and those we don’t), and events. We are confronted with constant noise, both around us and in our heads. We can feel helpless, tossed around by outside forces and by our frazzled inner selves. And even among friends and family, we can feel lonely and invisible.
That’s why the spiritual disciplines are so valuable. They aren’t just another thing that happens to us; rather they are a practice we choose—and must choose, if we want to grow in our faith. Silence and solitude are foundational to the other disciplines. The two go hand in hand: silence is easier to achieve when we’re alone, if we’re willing to turn off the TV and other sources of noise. Being alone relieves us from the temptation to put on our public selves, to speak and act in such a way as to justify ourselves to others (and to ourselves). We need to be alone and quiet so that we can listen for God’s voice and reconnect with our creator, who knows the real us and can help us become who he wants us to be. Dallas Willard wrote, “Locked into interaction with the human beings that make up our fallen world, it is all but impossible to grow in grace as one should. . . . In stark aloneness it is possible to have silence, to be still, and to know that Jehovah indeed is God . . . . Only silence will allow us life-transforming concentration upon God” (The Spirit of the Disciplines). In silence and solitude are peace and sanctuary.
Perhaps being alone makes you feel anxious. Perhaps the absence of noise makes you feel lonely and adrift. “Jesus calls us,” wrote Richard Foster, “from loneliness to solitude. . . . Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment” (Celebration of Discipline). How do we go from emptiness to fulfillment? By listening for the voice of God. By remembering that he is real and trusting that he loves and cares for us. As we practice the discipline, we can learn to enjoy moments of inward solitude and communion with God even in our busyness. We might notice the changing leaves as we walk from the parking lot to our building at work. We might see birds overhead, winging their way south to their wintering grounds. We can observe God at work in the world around us, in nature and in our fellow human beings. Wrote Foster, “In the midst of noise and confusion we are settled into a deep inner silence. Whether alone or among people, we always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart.”
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning for worship and the Lord’s Supper at 9:30 (children’s worship and nursery care provided), and stay afterward for Discovery Hour (all ages, little ones through adults).