In the silence
I take a lot of nature walks with my children. Not only do I love being outside, but with four busy, active kiddos (three boys), spending time in the great outdoors gives them a chance to expend some of their wild energy, and restores a measure of sanity to our lives. We do this year-round, but this fall has been especially glorious here in Michigan where we live, and we are trying to soak it up as much as we possibly can. One of my favorite things about our rambles is seeing the progression of the seasons, and how in each one, there is something beautiful and unique that makes even the places we visit most frequently feel different and new each time we are there. Lately, we see—splendidly and spectacularly—the dying and dormancy of nature preparing for winter. Trees shedding their leaves, plants withering, grass no longer growing. We do not hear the bird songs that were so loud and plentiful in the spring and summer. We might look around at bare trees and flower stalks done blooming and think only of the barrenness—or we can realize that this quieting, this moving into a “silent” time, is when the deep work of growth is being done. Without it, there would be no fruit to bear in the “blooming” season.
Our hearts are like that too. In order for our lives to be fruitful, we must make space for silence. I have been telling myself this lately, because it is such a hard thing to do—in a noisy and chaotic world; when other people depend on you for so much, whether they be your spouse and children, co-workers, friends, other family members, etc. On the spectrum of Mary and Martha—one sitting peacefully at Jesus’ feet, and the other burdened with much serving and activity—I am firmly on the Martha side, almost always busy, almost always in motion, almost always anxious over all that I have to do, or all that I have left undone. And yet, as I watch nature all around me putting herself to sleep for the winter, I feel the pull in my heart to follow her lead: to be still and know that God is God.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” —St. Teresa of Calcutta
For my own family, the fall was a very abundant season—full of activities, challenges, blessings. As we head into another very busy season of holidays, when the culture around us seems to start spinning ever faster and more noisily toward the end of the year, I want to remember to create space for silence. Even in the midst of good things, like serving our families and showering those around us with love, or celebrating the many beautiful feasts and liturgical seasons coming up, we still need room for silence. I may not be able to quiet the world around me, or even the children in my own home, but I can focus on quieting my own heart and mind, so that I can hear the Lord speaking into my life. More Him, less me.
Occasionally on the nature walks I take with my children, I will set a timer and say, “OK, we are going to NOT TALK or make noise for X amount of minutes, and we will just listen to the sounds around us.” Sometimes we make it only a minute or two before someone blurts something out, or rambunctiousness reigns, but other times, we all sink into the silence as if it were something we craved but didn’t know how to ask for. Then my children will beg me to add more minutes to the timer when it goes off, so that we can sit quietly longer. I need to remember this practice not just when I want other people to be quiet, but in the daily duties that are mine: replacing the habit of noise, with one of silence. Finding moments when, instead of hurrying onto the next task, trying to do too many things at once, I still my mind and seek the Lord in the silence.
“The beginning of prayer is silence. If we really want to pray we must first learn to listen, for in the silence of the heart God speaks.” —St. Teresa of Calcutta