Written by a young person in discernment.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.”
--Blessed Mother Teresa
"What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love."
--St. John of the Cross
As I have been on the journey of discernment for a while now, sometimes a friend will ask me for advice when they are trying to discern something. I'm no expert, but I have learned a thing or two through experience. The first suggestion I always make is this: cultivate silence.
For so many young adults (myself included), life is amazingly noisy, both audibly and visually. The places where we spend our days -- large educational institutions, workplaces, dorms or homes shared with roommates -- tend to be loud, busy, hectic places. Even when we are physically alone, noise and stimulation find us through our technology. For many of us, "downtime" is still connected time: we relax or pass solitary hours with our phones, tablets, laptops, Netflix, and music. We like to be caffeinated, connected, and plugged in -- all the time. The default state of noise is such a prevalent part of our culture that silence can seem scary, boring, or unnatural. However, we need silence in our lives if we want to be able to know God and his will.
Cultivating silence can take serious effort on our part. When I first started practicing regular times of silence, I found it very hard. I would go to sit with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament at my parish, and often the two of us would be the only persons present. Sometimes I prayed silently, wrote in my journal, or did spiritual reading. Sometimes I would just sit there and be. At first, the quiet and stillness was unnerving. I also found that if I had my phone or iPod on me, the temptation to pull it out and check it was always too much for me. So, I had to leave all my devices at home when I came for silence time. At first, I could only handle the silence for a few minutes. It felt boring, like a waste of time, and I didn't think it was helping me. However, I toughed it out and kept at it. Eventually I was staying in silence for up to an hour at a time, what I called "a legit Holy Hour." After what felt like a long time without seeing any "results," I began to notice the fruits of silence in my life.
I began to notice that, while not much seemed to happen while I was actually in silence, God began to speak to me in other moments of my life, during my ordinary school/work routine. The fruit of my silent time would come at a moment when I was studying or washing dishes or on the bus. I realized that, in a way I didn't fully understand, the silence was creating space in my heart that was enabling God to speak. I also noticed that I felt more peaceful. External silence was helping my chaotic heart and mind to quiet down. I went from dreading and avoiding silence to enjoying it and seeking it out. Cultivating silence enabled me to get to know myself a lot better. It also enabled me to get to know God better, and to discover that knowing Him leads to knowing His will.
I experienced a new level of silence when I visited a community of contemplative nuns to discern with them. I went from the chaos and noise of an international airport to the quiet of a monastery. The public part of the chapel was the first place I went. I sat alone there for a few minutes, and it was as if I was drinking in the silence. It was as if I had been dying of thirst without knowing it, and had arrived at an oasis. This silence was nothing like the awkward silence of a uncomfortable gap in conversation, nor like the stony silence in a relationship when the other person gives you "the silent treatment." This silence was rich and warm. It surrounded me like a loving embrace. The peace of this silence was palpable. It was the deep, deep stillness and silence of a place where God is present, and where He is honored, reverenced, and loved. A place where silence is respected and cultivated because of the nuns' desire to be able to hear the voice of their Beloved. This silence was a hug from the Holy Spirit.
After this experience, I began to treasure holy silence and seek out times and places where I could enjoy it. I began to think of times of silence as hugs from God. These times help me to be at peace, to think clearly, and to focus my heart on the One who loves me.
If you want to make space in your heart for God's words, and if you want to come to know His will for your life, I encourage you to spend a few minutes in silence each day, be it at home, in a church, or out in nature. Turn off the devices and put them away, quiet your heart, and switch your focus from doing to being. Like me, you may feel afraid of what God may say to you if you are quiet enough to listen. Let me reassure you: God will speak love. He is gentle. He loves you. He is for you, not against you. And He wills only the very best for your life. Cultivate enough silence to hear Him, and you may be surprised by what happens.
Sisters and brothers, His desires for you are so good. Be not afraid!
"The Lord said, “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." (1 Kings 19:11-12)