Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Ruth Haley Barton's recent book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, (InterVarsity Press, 2010).
The spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude may be quiet, but they're also full of adventure, because God Himself is waiting to meet you there. Whenever you get away from the noise and busyness of life to encounter God through silence and solitude, He’ll change your soul in ways that go beyond words.
Here’s how you can use silence and solitude to grow closer to God:
Pay attention to what’s stirring in your soul. Notice the feelings of desperation and desire that you experience at various times. Instead of trying to suppress or run from those feelings, let them motivate you pursue time with God in silence and solitude.
Incorporate silence and solitude into your life regularly. Choose a regular time and place to get away from life as usual and spend at least 10 minutes in silence and solitude as often as you can. Ask God to help you express your need for Him through a simple prayer, and choose a physical position that will enable you to stay alert yet worshipful.
Overcome resistance.Don’t let anything distract you from devoting yourself regularly to times of seeking God in silence and solitude. Entrust each of your current concerns specifically to God in prayer so you can be free to be fully present with Him during solitude and silence. If you’re anxious or afraid when you think about spending time in solitude and silence, admit it to God and ask Him to comfort you.
Seek rest for your body, mind, and soul. Pray for the wisdom you need to recognize when you’ve become dangerously tired – exhausted by life’s demands, to the point where you can’t hear God’s voice speaking to you. Accept God’s invitation to rest in His presence during solitude and silence. Rather than showing up tired for your special meetings with God, give your body the rest it needs by getting enough sleep and exercise, eating well, and drinking water regularly. While you’re spending time in solitude and silence, take deep breaths and let the peace of God’s presence fill your body. Let go of concerns that your mind is trying to hold onto during solitude and silence by opening yourself up to the revelation that comes from beyond your mind – from God Himself, who can speak to you about things that your mind can’t figure out, but your spirit can hear. Ask God to help you quiet your mind and listen to Him with your spirit, trusting that He will respond to your prayer by speaking to you. If grief is weighing on your soul, confess it to God. When your soul feels grateful for God’s love, express that gratitude to God.
Let emptiness lead you to God’s fulfillment. Don’t try to deny or avoid the emptiness you feel inside sometimes. Instead, recognize that emptiness can be good when it motivates you to turn to God to seek fulfillment during your times of solitude and silence. So feel the pain of your emptiness as it carves out space in your soul for you to receive more of God’s presence.
Face yourself as you really are, and let God help you. Rather than hiding from God, denying who you are, or trying to control what others think of you, allow the truth of who you are to surface during solitude and silence – and face the reality of the person you see, flaws and all. Then remember that God loves you deeply and unconditionally, and ask Him to meet you right where you are and help you grow more into the person He wants you to become. Use whatever painful new knowledge you’ve gained about yourself to repent from sin and grow closer to God, with the confidence that He will help you every step of the way. Keep in mind that God is for you, with you, and in you when you open yourself up to His powerful presence. So give yourself completely to God, who loves you just as you are but also loves you too much to let you stay as you are.
Receive God’s guidance. The more time you spend with God in solitude and silence, the more you’ll learn how to recognize God’s voice when He speaks to you. Pray for the guidance you need to make wise decisions, and be alert for the Holy Spirit witnessing to your spirit about what is true. Remember that the Holy Spirit will reveal truth to you only as you’re able to bear it, so trust God’s timing.
Let the love that you experience in solitude and silence pour out into other people’s lives. Each time that you return to life in community with other people after spending time in solitude and silence, draw upon the love that God has given you to love others in the ways He wants you to express love – from speaking kind and encouraging words, to serving them when they need help with something. Take what God has given you during your meetings with Him in solitude and silence and use it to bless others when you’re with them.
Adapted from Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence copyright 2010 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Ruth Haley Barton is a spiritual director, teacher, author and retreat leader trained at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation (Washington, D.C.). She is cofounder and president of The Transforming Center, a ministry to pastors and Christian leaders. Educated at Wheaton College and Northern Seminary, Barton has served at several churches, including Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Her books include Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Sacred Rhythms, Longing for More(all InterVarsity Press), An Ordinary Day with Jesus: Experiencing the Reality of God in Your Everyday Life(with John Ortberg, Willow Creek Resources), Ruth: Relationships That Bring Life(Shaw) and a series of articles called The Transforming Leader in Christian Management Report.
Whitney Hopler is a full-time freelance writer and editor. You can visit her website at:http://whitneyhopler.naiwe.com/.
Publication date: March 28, 2011