We are a weary people. From a toxic unseen molecule sickening the world to a toxic, long-unheard call for justice in our country, we are overwhelmed at home and at work.
My leadership style errs towards action—go, go, go, go. The bigger the crisis, the more intensely I run. What can I do next and how fast can I get it done? Working with a mindset based around a scarcity of time is one of my secret weapons “for getting it done,” yet it’s also one of my biggest spiritual impediments. We “get it done” people often attempt to do so without God.
About five years ago, I was reminded about the dark side of my action-orientedness while reading a devotional based on excerpts from C.S. Lewis. His analogy likening the needs of the day to crazy beasts quickly awakened me to the toxicity of chronic productivity.
“The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”
—Mere Christianity, p. 158
The term “wild animals” reminded me of the many mornings I categorize my to-do list before I even put my feet on the floor. So I began researching the opposite of productivity—stillness. What I found was disconcerting: at best, I was using busyness to soothe my soul with productivity and, at worst, to run from God. Thus I committed to a Day of Silence—and one not just of silence, but of committing to no productivity in order to spend time with God.
BUT MOST OF ALL, I WAS SCARED HE WOULD SAY NOTHING AT ALL. WHAT WOULD BE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THAT?
Driving to my first day of silence at a retreat house managed by nuns, I was unsettled. I was scared the day would go so slowly and I would be agitated and restless. I feared God would say too much, and I would not be able to heed his call. But most of all, I was scared he would say nothing at all. What would be the implications of that? I stopped short of fearing a faith crisis.
But my time at the retreat center was perhaps the most transforming experience in my faith life in the last ten years. Two assigned scripture passages, a journal, a pencil, no technology, and a commitment to nothing productive for six hours seemed awkward and daunting at first—how many times could I read the parable of Jesus calming the storm, and what more could I learn?
Upon reviewing my notes a few hours later, I realized something had happened about thirty minutes into journaling about the parable. My writing switched perspectives from questions (I wonder if I would have panicked on the boat? I wonder why I don’t believe he can calm a storm?) to revelations about how I could serve God (I should pay more attention to the creativity of my husband. I need to remember that I am cherished by my heavenly Father).
My pen was unleashed. God flooded my mind with his voice and filled my journal with his edicts, blessings, and requests for me. Despite being a Christian for over thirty years, I had never experienced such a long or intense experience with God.
SOME DAYS HAVE BEEN AS FRUITFUL AS THE FIRST, OTHERS MUCH DRIER AND MORE CONTEMPLATIVE. BUT NOT ONCE HAVE I LEFT FEELING DISCOURAGED OR ABANDONED BY GOD.
Silence has now become a spiritual rhythm for me as I endeavor to take a personal day every quarter. It is not for creative writing or strategic planning. It isn’t for exercise or planning my life. It is solely for communion with Jesus. Some days have been as fruitful as the first, others much drier and more contemplative. But not once have I left feeling discouraged or abandoned by God. Yet every single time, I still fight the necessity of that day with seemingly honorable excuses—I am too busy, the kids are sick, my boss needs something, I should spend this time with my husband…. Sometimes the excuses win.
Over the last year, I have informally begun encouraging others into silence as I work towards a full weekend or week for myself. During the pandemic, I was honored to lead a Day of Silence for City to City and was so thankful that our CEO dedicated an entire workday for our team to commune with God like Jesus did before he faced some of his largest obstacles. Our organization faces many challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, global economic crisis, and numerous social injustices.
The stories I’ve heard from this day of silence are many and varied: one was able to hear God as his creativity was unleashed through writing a poem, another confronted her anger with God, and one realized he needed to play a more intentional role in the fight for racial justice. I like to think that we were all reminded that God has not abandoned us and that we are on a mission together for him. Out of this silence we can emerge with a collective resolve in our call amidst an increasingly tumultuous time.
Do wild animals rush at you each morning as C.S. Lewis mentioned? Are you in a season of great challenge? Remember Richard Foster’s words: “The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear. The Spirit speaks to us when our heart is still and silent before the Lord—not when we’re rushing about and doing our own thing in our own way” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 86).
Interested in leading a Day of Silence in your church or organization? Here is a suggested Day of Silence guide and schedule.