In today’s society we move a mile a minute and I am no exception to this rule. With my phone in hand, hours can pass by in the blink of an eye. Even while having devotional time, my phone is within arm’s reach. From the moment we wake up in the morning we are flooded with sensory stimulation- phone alarms, music, news, social media. We interact with people and ideas almost 24/7.
Informatics professor Dr. Gloria Marks stated in an interview that the average person checks their email 74 times a day and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day. 90 percent of young adults in the US actively use social media and 50 percent of people use social media while driving. With high speed internet literally at our fingertips, it is no wonder that many of us have lost the art of solitude and silence.
Given the choice of stimulation or being left to our own thoughts, it is a no-brainer. A study was published in the July 2014 edition of Science in which students surrendered all their belongings, including their smartphones and spent 6 to 15 minutes alone in a room with nothing to do but think. Not surprisingly, more than half of the participants reported the task was difficult. What surprised researchers was that when instructed to occupy themselves with their thoughts and given the option of administering themselves a mild electric shock if they wished, 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women voluntarily gave themselves at least one shock during the thinking time. The baffled scientists recorded, “Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.”
It’s easy to become addicted to stimulation without even realizing it. Noise is the new normal and boredom is to be avoided at all costs, but what are we missing out on when we are constantly plugged in?
Austin Phelps, a 19th century pastor, noted, “It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God.”
This principle is illustrated in the scriptures several times. Perhaps the most memorable illustration was in the life of Elijah. After facing off with the pagan priests at Mount Carmel, then running for his life from wicked Queen Jezebel, Elijah was physically and emotionally spent. After meeting his physical needs, God taught him an important lesson. There was a mighty windstorm tearing rocks loose from their places, then an earthquake, then a fire, but God was not in these things. He was in the gentle whisper that followed them.
God can speak in the noise, but He often chooses the silence. In His life on earth, Christ was often alone with His Father (Luke 5:16). He would spend whole nights in prayer (Luke 6:12). Silence and solitude was His place of strength. So what happens when we step away from the notifications and viral videos for a while?
It reminds us that life will go on without us.
It clears the clutter from our minds to allow for wise decision making and planning.
It creates inner space to hear the voice of God.
It allows us to disconnect from the world and deeply connect with our soul. We can get to know ourselves without the voices of friends, family, television, podcasts, books, technology, work and everything else that vies for our attention.
It helps us with other spiritual disciplines such as Bible study, prayer and fasting.
It boosts creativity.
It creates increased appreciation for our relationships.
Finding time to escape alone and experience solitude and silence can feel almost impossible in our busy world, but it can be done if we are intentional.
If you’re a mom, this may mean waking up an hour earlier or staying up an hour after the kids are asleep. Spend your lunch break alone. Go on a retreat. Have a social media fast for a set period of time. Just a few minutes of purposeful quiet each day can benefit us more than we could imagine. It may be difficult at first but hang in there. God wants you to have the blessing of silence.
“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15 (NLT)