The impossibility of Silence

I have been pretty quiet lately. Actually, I should rephrase, I have been actively seeking quiet. Actually, I have been deeply mulling in areas of community and doing life together with other people, which has been on the forefront of my thought-life recently (and much writing, as well- just not here), but those aspects can’t be separated from their polar opposites of solitude and silence. I have discovered the importance of cultivating these opposites simultaneously, so have focused myself to become keenly aware of their presence (or lack there of) in the everyday.

I think the introvert tends to crave isolation like the extrovert craves people. I can’t say anymore which I am- there have been seasons where I lean more towards one, then other seasons where I lean the other way. Maybe I’m an inextrovert. But I do feel strongly that there is a balance between the two, both are important aspects of life as we are called to cultivate the disciplines of both times of solitude and times of fellowship. Too often I find myself in a knee-jerk reaction to extremes of feeling I have to purge out one when I have allowed it to overwhelm or drain me. While there is validity in cutting back and cutting certain things out, I feel incredibly convicted that completely eliminating or focusing too strongly on one of these disciplines is plain wrong and ultimately cripples the other. Or I tend to think if I take a big step to load up on one aspect that has been missing, that will make it better. However, those kinds of reactions are temporary and rather unsustainable.

My side of the struggle lies in keeping the communal life together that is transparent and authentic strong but strengthening my weaker aspects of time to myself sans kids, husband and demands. While I have recently been getting at least one morning to myself and a few other afternoons and evenings where Matt has watched the kids, I find more and more this kind of stuff can’t just be large events of Binge Silence (so to speak). I also found that my weekly morning caught on as a good idea until one morning there were SEVEN other people at the same place trying to do the same thing, turning the solo time into a great connecting time, but I realized that was not the intent I needed to be pursuing. I have since changed the day of my ME mornings.

Yes, that has been really a great time once a week time to get away that we securely protect for me to get away. Regardless, there are still 6 other days of the week where I remain under constant pressures, demands and noise of three little kids, a household to manage, a to-do list, a husband to help and love, and the daily activities and schedule we keep. The bigger question is how to cultivate simultaneously periods of quiet and alone time for study, thoughts and solitude without completely removing oneself from the everyday heat of regular life. I know for most Mom’s I know that happens during naptime. But for me, Araiya has refused to nap regularly since before Tallis was born, and now not at all. So there has never really been any period of respit in my day at all, that just simply isn’t realistic. Though we do aim for ‘quiet time’ during Tallis’ nap, yet that remains filled with noise (albeit less) and I have been using it to catch up on things I just can’t do with three kids and their constant neediness. There isn’t a time to just shut it off. If anyone knows Araiya, you’ll know the term ‘incessant noise’ would suit her well.

But like I said, I don’t want to knee-jerk to the extreme of shutting off the computer, turning off the music, ignoring the dishes and strewn toys, neglecting the basic things in my day that need to get done, and unplugging completely because that simply is a wrong reaction. I feel that is too easily seeking to escape. A short fix and a jump start, but the tank doesn’t stay full for long. I want to find a way to integrate solitude and silence into the everyday, to make it a congruent part of life without neglecting it or the other pressing and important aspects of the days and using the tools of technology and modernity to aid in that. Pragmatically, the HOW is needing to be determined. Charles and John Wesley’s mom, Susanna, is said to have done this with her apron over her head so her kids would know to steer clear when they saw her having her “quiet time.” That’s one idea, though at this season with this age group, hard to implement and stick to (or could easily be taken advantage of, as mine are old enough to take an opportune moment to get into trouble whenever I am not keeping a keen eye on them). I do though feel the noise is just constant.

Already, I have had to modify what my own study time ends up being like, what is realistic for me as a person in this season (for example, Matt gets up before 5am, which doesn’t work consistently, waaaay to early for me). What that looks like has changed. I’m not typically an auditory learner, but I listen to a lot more podcasts, subscribe to a lot more blog feeds, get a daily section of Scripture emailed to me. I thought it would look more like me, my Bible, a commentary and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology on the chaise lounge for an hour or two. While that would be my normal idea of quiet study time, that’s just really not realistic. My best thinking has been done while walking somewhere by myself. Also I have a small notebook I write out ideas and passages weekly and just camp there for longer periods of time opposed to tackling bigger chunks or longer sections. One big step has been reducing out “noise” that doesn’t need to be there. A second has been changed expectations and a renewed charge to pursue some good daily rest time where I had just previously thrown my hands up. Third, a realistic realization that this is a short season, which makes it both increasingly important to carve silence into and passing at the same time.

It’s a common myth that our lives can be practiced in isolation. While there are many key aspects of “alone time”, I don’t mean withdraw to it as an idol in itself, it can’t be removed from or not counterbalanced by community, one is a contemplative practice, and the other a corresponding active practice. Rather, we should seek in addition to regularly taking times of solitude taking considerable amounts of time in community with others, and visa versa. It is dangerous to isolate ourselves, especially in our struggles. A healthy balance is both being and doing. In the communal arena we can gain insight into the quiet areas as we learn through the experiences of one another.

So, in this season for you, what does silence and solitude look like in the midst of the heat and workings of the day-to-day?


~ by gdesign on December 12, 2008.

One Response to “The impossibility of Silence”

  1. I’ve been struggling with some of the same things myself, although it’s as much or more work related then home. Right now silence = stress and worry so I’ve been keeping myself busy with all the things that need to be done. My hope is that with the house settled, a new year and more importantly a son on the way, I’ll be able to re-center and refocus life within the context of what is really important.

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