When Mariah signed up for a workshop on leadership, one of the requirements was giving up her cell phone for two days. When the workshop was in the distant future, the commitment seemed easy enough. As the workshop approached, however, the thought of giving up her constant companion for a couple of days troubled her. She began to second guess her decision to attend the workshop.
I identify with Mariah’s reluctance to disconnect. For most of my life, I’ve been an adrenaline junkie – thriving on a full schedule, a hectic pace, and a long list of responsibilities. My days were packed, and I would fall into bed exhausted. One of my tech-savvy friends used to kid me about falling asleep wherever I was. He compared me to a lithium-ion battery – operating at full power until it suddenly goes dead.
We live in a culture that thrives on caffeine, adrenaline, and non-stop activity. Most of us find that reflection is difficult, and silence is elusive. Unless we are intentional about seeking it out, silence gets drowned out by the endless stimuli that bombard us and the many things that demand our attention.
When I slowed down after nearly 50 years of an intense work life, I began to devote more time to quiet reflection and silence. Slowly, surprising insights bubbled up from within – often unbidden, sometimes even unwelcome. It took a while for me to realize that each surprising insight was also an invitation to transformation.
One of the surprises that emerged from silence was emotional. I slowly came to realize that my core emotions were anxiety and fear. The confidence I tried so hard to convey was masking an inner turmoil. Anxiety and fear were so deep and pervasive within me that most of the time I didn’t even know they were there. All the while, they were attaching themselves to whatever they could find to pull my chain: fear of failure, fear of not being liked, fear of looking bad, fear of . . . you name it. A deep existential fear was embedded in my psyche and my bones, and it was the driving force of my relentless activity.
The truths that emerge in silence are not intended to embarrass, judge, or condemn us. They emerge from the God within as an opportunity for transformation. The truths that emerge in silence have a redemptive purpose – urging us to embrace the healing we need to live more freely and authentically.
Coming to a deeper awareness of how deeply fear was embedded within me and how powerfully it was shaping my behavior gave me a choice. I could continue on a fear-driven path, or I could learn to trust – that I am safe, that I have innate goodness within me, that I don’t need to prove myself, that I am already loved unconditionally. My transition from fear-driven to trust-driven continues to be a work in process. Embracing that transformation invites me to make conscious choices every day that are rooted in trust rather than fear.
Another surprise that emerged from silence focused on my motivation. This one had help from the late Thomas Keating and his simple – yet blunt – statement: “In Christianity, motivation is everything.” 1 Keating illustrates his point with a remarkable analysis of the Gospel’s description of the household at Bethany. (Luke 10:38-42) His comments about Martha could have been made about me. “She is working for herself. No doubt she thinks she is working solely for God, but her motivation is mixed.”2
His point hit home. As one of the Three Stooges once said, “I resemble that remark.” My motivation often looks good on the outside. Yet, when I’m honest with myself, I’m forced to acknowledge that there’s often a hidden agenda. I serve my clients with passion and energy, but I want to be recognized and appreciated. I’m a generous friend, but I want to be liked. I’m a willing volunteer, but my efforts make me look good. Like Martha crashing around in the kitchen drawing attention to herself, my motivation is shot through with self-interest.
Grasping the truth – that my motivation is mixed – is also an invitation to transformation. The awkward truth has a redemptive purpose – urging me to embrace self-emptying surrender. The God within reveals this truth to free me from the self-imposed need to posture and manage impressions. Its redemptive purpose is to open me to mercy, forgiveness, and love. It urges me to claim my authentic identity as a beloved son and live a life of self-emptying service – regardless of whether it is ever noticed or appreciated. Once again, my unfinished transformation continues to unfold; the spiritual journey is a work in process.
When Mariah was faced with second thoughts, she had the courage to give up her phone and attend the workshop. Her description afterwards was: “It was life changing.” When we have the courage to face the truth that emerges in silence and embrace its redemptive purpose, our lives are slowly transformed.
Surrendering to silence holds the potential to be life changing. When we have the courage to acknowledge the truths that emerge in silence, we are invited to embrace transformation. The spiritual journey urges us to seek out silence and commit to entering into it as a daily discipline. Doing so invites the deeper truths we need to learn to emerge from deep within. As those truths surface and become clear, we have the opportunity to open ourselves to healing and redemption, embrace the journey of transformation, and more fully live our authentic identity as children of God.
Questions to Ponder
Here are some questions to ponder about your own approach to silence.
- What are you already doing to open yourself to silence?
- What surprises have you encountered in silence?
- How have those surprises invited you to transformation?
- What can you do to carve out consistent time for silence in the midst of your day, your week, and your life?
- What tools – such as meditation, journal writing, reading scripture, and spiritual reading – could you use to deepen your commitment to silence?
- Thomas Keating, The Better Part: Stages of Contemplative Living (New York, Continuum, 2002), p. 18.
- Ibid., p. 18.