A beautiful white English Lab, ran away from her owner who, wanting her to come back, immediately responded, “Bella, Bella come.” Bella wasn’t listening. Plastered on her face was a huge, goofy doggie smile. Bella was an appropriate name for this beautiful, fun loving, white English Lab. She was filled with the energy, excitement and freedom of just being on her own. She stopped only after encountering a small dog in her path. This allowed the owner to catch up with her and to tie together her broken leash.
This restraint did not last long, however, as Bella once again broke loose. As previously, it was the stopping to check out the small dog that had first caught Bella’s eye that allowed her owner to repeat the process of catching up to her. Her owner’s patience surprised me as he calmly called to her. I was impressed with how gently he bent down to tether her again.
I wondered about how the owner must be experiencing Bella. He wanted her with him on a quiet stroll, but she would not have it. There were too many fascinating, exciting people and things that captured her attention. The thought then occurred to me that, of late, that is how God has been experiencing me.
When there are many new and exciting things to do, see, and experience, it’s often hard to remain quiet and still with God. Like Bella, we get distracted and give in to other things demanding our attention. But if we are becoming more attuned to the spiritual realities of life, we soon realize, that the distractions do not satisfy a deeper soul hunger. Our craving for infinite love, care, concern, protection and direction in life can only be satisfied by our personal “Owner.”
The practice of solitude and silence trains us to pay attention and to really listen to the One who is always attending to us. Similar to putting training wheels on a bike, solitude and silence teach us to balance both being and doing. By growing in the ability to spend time in stillness and quietness, we can eventually develop a more balanced rhythm of listening and doing in our lives. This practice allows for us to experience a returning or a coming back to our God, who with tenderness and grace provides all that we have need of on a daily, even a moment-to-moment basis.
Although this kind of spiritual practice, may be difficult to befriend because sometimes nothing remarkable seems to be happening, the fruit is seen when we go out to do life. We notice a response to others that is less ruled by self-protective or self-important thoughts. Our reaction to unexpected circumstances becomes anchored in the One who has met us in the quiet and stillness and changed our willfulness to willingness.
If you would like to begin to practice silence and solitude, Adele Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook has some exercises that can be very helpful. Here are a few.
1. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Take a few deep breaths to relax and get into a comfortable position. Intentionally place yourself in the presence of God and become quiet.
- Notice what you hear? Voices, traffic, your breath, wind blowing, your heart, and distracting thoughts?
- Let the noise and distractions go. Continue to let the quiet deepen by saying a short phrase like: My soul waits in silence for my God alone [Psalm 62:1 ESV].
- If you have any chores that come to mind, write them down and continue to listen becoming aware that God is with you and enjoys just being with you.
- Try this several times a day. What happens to you?
2. While doing a task, turn off any background noise and continue the task by offering it to God. Be in the present, doing what you are doing with a listening heart.
- What is it like for you?
- What distracts you?
3. Go into silence, placing yourself in the presence of God with the words “Here I am”. Remember love is focused attention.
- As distractions come to mind, let them go by imagining they are boats floating down a river. Return to God again and again by repeating your favorite name for him.
- Let the current take the distractions away. Don’t follow them. Gently return to God. Let the current of God’s Spirit carry you. What is this like for you?¹
¹Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Page 109-110.
Carmen Fleming is an Odyssey in Christ spiritual director and along with her participation on the retreat and seminar staff, she serves on the OIC Board as secretary.